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Public Participation and Ecosystem Services
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AUA Co-organizes Conference on Public Participation and Ecosystem Services

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YEREVAN, Armenia — Over 100 attendees from around the world participated in the Virtual Conference on Public Participation and Ecosystem Services held on October 4-6, 2021. The conference was co-organized by the American University of Armenia (AUA) Acopian Center for the Environment and the University of Hohenheim (UHOH)

The three-day conference featured presentations and panel discussions from several Armenian and international high-ranking policymakers, academics, and practitioners. The sessions addressed wide-ranging topics, including policy options for integrated landscape management and eco-agriculture, action research on sustainable landscapes, and use of 3D technologies in public participation and urban green infrastructure planning. 

The first day started with a thought-provoking talk by Dr. Sara J. Scherr, a globally renowned expert in eco-agriculture and chair of the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People initiative (1000L). She discussed integrated landscape management (ILM), one of the most promising approaches to tackle the challenges arising from pressures on land and other natural resources. In her words, “Production systems and landscapes need to produce both food and ecosystem services. What we realize now is that fragmented and siloed policy approaches won’t work to address this kind of integrated situation.” She called for integrated, multi-stakeholder, and multidisciplinary approaches that would better address issues of landscape governance. 

During the panel discussion, Dr. Arman Khojoyan, Deputy Minister of Economy of the Republic of Armenia (RA), shared ideas for policy reform needed for Armenia. One of the plans of the Ministry includes creating a land agency to “vitalize cultivation of unused arable land thereby increasing national productivity.” Further, he emphasized the need to communicate to farmers the significance of biodiversity for the health of ecosystems and also agriculture. 

Dr. Joern Fischer, professor of sustainable landscapes at the Faculty of Sustainability at Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany, opened the second day of the conference with a discussion of the socio-ecological approach to understanding landscapes using the case of Romania. He underscored the importance of sustainability science and the benefits of using the landscape scale when focusing on social change and biodiversity. He stated, “[Landscape scale] is a useful intermediate scale that neither suffers from the problems of overgeneralization, nor does it suffer so much from the problem of being extremely idiosyncratic.” He emphasized that “we can’t just draw on one scientific discipline to solve all ecosystem problems, rather we need to draw on many academic disciplines, and we also need to involve non-research actors and stakeholders from various segments of society,” such as local citizens, farmers, or policymakers.

Panelists discussed approaches to creating an eco-corridor in Armenia for environmental stewardship, community connection, and education for adopting conservation practices. Dr. Karen Manvelyan, director of WWF Armenia, discussed the corridor project stating, “We have about 37,000 hectares of community conservation areas in Armenia, about 1.3 percent of the entire territory. Our plan is to increase and to engage ten more communities in our conservation work in the second phase of the project.” 

Panelists exchanged approaches and methods of community integration to improve landscapes and ecosystems, while deliberating on solutions to challenges in communication and awareness raising, and in ways of engaging communities in such initiatives. 

Dr. Nora Fagerhold, adjunct professor at the University of Turku, Finland, wrapped up the second day of discussions sharing her insights into public participation and participatory landscape research relevant to urban and ecosystem services. She concluded stating that “Participatory mapping stresses individuals and their values, and when we put all the individual mappings together, we create a collective understanding.” 

At the Conference, the panelists furthered discussion of key public participation issues, touching upon methods utilized in Armenia and around the world, including the use of VR, immersive media and technologies, and urban simulation in decision making. Availability of data, along with the technological challenges users face were at the forefront of the conversation, including ways of improving the visualization of data to increase user engagement, interest and adoption. 

The final day of the Conference was devoted to students from UHOH, AUA, and the National Agrarian University of Armenia who presented papers on ecosystem services and landscape planning topics.

The videos of all sessions are available on the AUA Acopian Center’s YouTube channel.

The AUA Acopian Center for the Environment continues to be at the forefront of organizing discussions and exchanges on a range of environmental issues and opportunities in Armenia, connecting international and national experiences. 

The Virtual Conference was part of a four-year project called GAtES, which enabled exchange and collaboration between the AUA Acopian Center and the UHOH. The project is supported by DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). 

The Virtual Conference was featured on the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People blog.

The AUA Acopian Center for the Environment, a research center of the American University of Armenia (AUA), promotes the protection and restoration of the natural environment through research, education, and community outreach. The AUA Acopian Center’s focus areas include sustainable natural resource management, biodiversity protection, and conservation, as well as greening the built environment, clean energy, and energy efficiency, as well as information technology and the environment.

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