Harvesting the fishes at the Hortobágy fish ponds.
The natural lake system is one of the largest remaining wetland habitats in the Great Plain and one of the most important fish harvesting areas.

Hortobágy, Hungary 

Covering more than half of Hungary's territory, the Great Plain is the country's largest landscape, the main source of food production, approximately 4 million people home. And unfortunately, this region is the most vulnerable region to the effects of climate change.

The way of life of the farmers living here has a tradition that goes back generations, it is also a source of livelihood for 700.000 people. And changing climatic conditions are having an increasing impact on their livelihoods, making them increasingly vulnerable. For the surviving and enduring farms, replenishing water is a constant problem, while they are reluctant to leave their land, which in many cases is the heritage of generations of families. It is all they have, it is their life.

According to climate forecasts, by the end of the century, two thirds of Hungary's territory could become semi-desert (REMO-ECHAM5 climate model), making it unsuitable for farming, as is the case with the Danube-Tisza Sand Ridges, which the UN's World Food Organisation classified as a semi-desert area in 2004.

Tadpoles need two to three years of continuous care to reach the weight needed to become fishing. Until then, however, they face a myriad of dangers. One of these is a drastic drop in water levels. In an oxygen-deprived environment caused by algal blooms, the fish are traumatised and die within a short time.

Hortobágy, Hungary 

The portrait of fisherman Sándor, after the fish harvesting.

Sándor has worked as a fisherman on the fish ponds for 32 years. He spent his childhood and his whole life here. Fishing is a way of life for him but also an important source of income.

The Great Plain region accounts for one of a significant part of Hungary's fish production.

The people who live here live mainly from the water. Agriculture, livestock and fish production are the main livelihoods.

Hortobágy, Hungary

In 2022, fish farms suffered a 15% drop in production due to water shortages. Current experience and projections suggest that this could be as much as 30% in 2023 compared to 2020. Of the 26,000 hectares of fish ponds on pond farms, hundreds of hectares have dried up. And some of the fish ponds' water cannot be replenished because local streams have dried up and water canals are empty.

Hortobágy, Hungary

Due to droughts in recent years, water levels in the lakes have been steadily declining, and although water has been replenished from the nearby Tisza river, it is unclear how sustainable this situation will be in the future. In the summer drought, water levels in the Tisza also fell to record lows.

Hortobágy, Hungary 

Record low water levels in the Tisza river during the summer drought.

In Szolnok, the water level of the Tisza has dropped to a record low. As a result, several sand islands and sandbanks have formed in the river, and for a short time nearby towns were faced with the possibility of water restrictions.

Tisza river, Szolnok, Hungary

László's music car. Protecting freshly growing wheat from wild animals.
After the historic summer drought, most farmers suffered significant damage. As a result of the record drought, drought damage is estimated at over 1 million hectares. This is almost a third of the total arable land under cultivation. The only option left for farmers to survive the next year is to sow their crops in autumn, so they must protect their freshly sown crops at all costs, which could be damaged by starving wildlife.

Near to Kunszentmiklós, Hungary

István poses in front of his broken harvester.

By mid-summer, the ground had dried so hard that some of our machines broke down. The engine burned out, the plough was bent. Still, we were forced to harvest in order to have at least some minimal income.

Near to Bugacpusztaháza, Hungary

A dull and crooked plough, left on the dry and hard ground.

Near to Bugacpusztaháza, Hungary

Ibolya's garden.
The lack of winter snow cover and uneven distribution of precipitation, higher than average temperatures, longer periods of drought and the effects of human interventions are all leading to accelerated drying of the region and a steady decline in groundwater levels. Windy weather snaps the topsoil and spreads dust and sand on gardens and farmlands.

Bugac, Hungary

Ibolya, a local farmer shows her land that dried up during the winter drought.

Bugac, Hungary

The spread of sand in the Sand Ridges, in the heart of the Great Plain.

In 2004, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization classified the Sand Ridges as a semi-desert zone.

Fülöpháza, Hungary

László, cattle farmer posing on top of the corral.

László, who runs the family farm, used to keep dairy cows but has liquidated the herd due to increasingly difficult conditions. He then switched to cattle breeding, as fattening up the animals and selling them abroad ensures the farm can be run at less loss.

Kunszentmiklós, Hungary 

Poor harvests have led to a steady rise in feed prices, which fewer and fewer people can afford. Last May, the price of a bale of hay was 8,000 HUF, but by the end of the summer it had risen to 30,000 HUF. Most farmers feed their animals what they can.

Maize harvest from László's 130 hectares of land after the historic summer drought of 2022.

Kunszentmiklós, Hungary 

László's rifle.

"Except for farming and animal husbandry, I don't know how to do anything else, it's what I've done all my life. It's part of my family heritage. I can not accept losing it.
One way or another, we'll stay even after this land dried out" said László

Kunszentmiklós, Hungary 

Eta stroking the "Woolly" head of a cattle during feeding.
Eta keeps cattle on her generational family farm, currently with a herd of around 300 cattle. Most animals have their own nickname. They are attached to the animals as long as they are with them, because the family's future depends on their welfare.

Kisizsák, Hungary

Portrait of Little "Bandi".
Little “Bandi” grew up on the family farm. At the age of eight he already drives a tractor. His dream is to work what his parents did.

Kisizsák, Hungary

They sell cattle meat to several countries in Europe. But increasingly difficult climate and economics conditions mean that its farm future is uncertain.

Kisizsák, Hungary

Eta poses leaning against the corral of her family's cowshed.

The family had kept dairy cows for generations but due to increasingly difficult economic and climatic conditions, the herd was liquidated.

Kisizsák, Hungary

Cattle skull on the fence.

It is part of the Great Plain folklore that a horse or cattle skull hung on the fence of the farm keeps evil and misfortune away from the farm.

However, the fact is that the cattle population has fallen from 902,000 in June 2022 to 885,000 in December 2022, and this downward trend is expected to continue. The reasons for the decline are feed shortages and the weather situation.

Soltszentimre, Hungary 

Miklós, the manager of a cow farm poses in the empty cow shed.

Szegvár, Hungary

"After the drought in the summer of 2022, the herd had to be reduced by 100 cows in the autumn. We are now thinking about sending more cows to slaughter to at least we can pay our workers," said Miklós.

Szegvár, Hungary

Feed in drought: maize cobs.

The cow farm, which has been in operation for 70 years and has 360 cows, managed to survive the summer drought by buying up the crushed maize from local farmers that burnt out during the drought.

However, the nutritional value of this is not very good. Even though the cows eat all day, their milk yield has almost halved.

Szegvár, Hungary

Zoltán, a worker at the cow farm, posing in front of the cow pen.

One day, Zoltán will inherit his father's farm.

In his spare time, he works in the cow farm because he likes working with animals and because he can earn extra income.

There are not many jobs or livelihoods for young people in rural areas.

Szegvár, Hungary

Lonely dairy cow left in the ruined barn.

Szegvár, Hungary

The adverse economic and environmental impacts of the last half century have brought many family farms to the brink of bankruptcy. The loss of a life's work has left many people in a hopeless situation and - especially affects men - the Great Plain region has currently the region with the worst suicide rate not only in Hungary but in the EU. Suicide rates are highest in old age, but also high in the 45-55 age group.

Hotel Oasis, ruined farmhouse in the Great Plain.

Csordajárás, Kiskunfélegyháza, Hungary

Ákos posing with a bird catcher net.

Ákos lives and works as an ornithologist near the nearby lake Kolon. Lake Kolon has been drying up for years by years, and no water to replenish it due to lack of rainfall. His observations show a year-on-year decline in the number of birds arriving in the region. One of his biggest fears is that Kolon-lake will suffer the same fate as nearby Kondor-lake.

Kolon-lake, Soltszentimre, Hungary

Ten hectares of pineforest that burned down due to the summer drought, near Kolon-lake.

The flames were only contained 2 kilometres from Ákos' farm. Firefighting was made difficult by the lack of water in the area.
The forest provided a habitat for many birds.

Soltszentimre, Hungary

There was once a wildlife. Eta's plastic tablecloth.

Kisizsák, Hungary

Higher-than-normal temperatures, longer periods of drought and the effects of human interventions have led to a steady drying up of the Great Plain region, which is rich in lakes and streams, and a decline in the wildlife (there were still around 650 natural lakes at the beginning of the 20th century).

Portrait of the ornithologist Uncle Laci who is waiting for the birds to arrive by the window of their farmhouse.

"Without water, everything disappears from here. We are only silent witnesses to the change. Forests once full of birds are now silent. The sky is silent," he said.

Kondor-lake, Fülöpháza, Hungary

Holding the birds!

Kolon-lake, Soltszentimre, Hungary

Fossilised bird footprints on the shore of a dry lake.

Near to Fülöpháza, Hungary

Katinka, birdwatcher posing with an empty bird nest.

Laci and his wife Katinka moved to Lake Kondor 40 years ago to do bird watching and conservation work. It's what they have based their lives on. In the meantime, the lake has permanently dried up and the birds have gradually disappeared from the area.

Kondor-lake, Fülöpháza, Hungary

Katinka's book 'The birdwatchers' bible'.

Mostly, when I want to see a bird, I pick up this book - said Katinka.

Kondor-lake, Fülöpháza, Hungary

Birds play a key role in the functioning of the world's ecosystems, directly affecting our health, the economy and food production (by controlling pests, pollinating and sowing seeds of certain plant species).

The salt ponds were home to hundreds of breeding birds every year. With the permanent drying up of the lakes, their numbers have fallen dramatically.

Water meter in the permanently dried Kondor lake.

Kondor-lake, Fülöpháza, Hungary


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