Wetland management for sustainable livelihoods has been a key concern of staff at CSRC over many years. Building from a field research project in Ethiopia in the 1990s, CSRC staff have helped developed one international and one national institutions which focus on wetland management and have contributed to international studies. The culmination of this work has been a recent publication of a book on “Wetland Management and Sustainable Livelihoods in Africa”.
A multiple-use wetland in central Malawi
A key focus of the work with wetlands has been to change the paradigm of international thinking about these areas from conservation to sustainable utilisation. This is critical in order to address development goals and to cope with climate change.
Through collaboration Wetland Action, CSRC staff have been engaged in a global study of the interaction between agriculture and wetlands in order to identify new policies to address this area of traditional conflict. With the Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resources Association work has been undertaken on institutions for sustainable wetland management.
Multiple use of wetlands for a range of livelihood benefits, within a landscape perspective has been supported by CSRC research, along with the development of wetland enterprises and management institutions. In these ways sustainable livelihoods can be developed which are resilient in the face of climate change, natural disasters and the evolving economic situation.
Sustainable Wetland Management
Given the fragility of wetlands, their importance for water supply and the growing pressures to convert them to agriculture uses, there is an urgent need to try to achieve sustainable use of wetlands. This requires management regimes which help maintain some of the natural characteristics of wetlands while also allowing partial conversion to allow activities which can meet the economic needs of communities. A balance has to be struck between the environmental functioning of wetlands and their use for livelihood purposes. Responding to economic/market conditions so as to create sustainable use regimes is critical.
Sustainable wetland management regimes are found in various situations. Usually they involve minimal conversion of the wetland and limited degradation of the catchment. However, more interventionist regimes can be found which are sustainable where more complex water management regimes are applied.
In all cases sustainable management involves some form of multiple-use regime, with a particular pattern of land use in the wetland and catchment being vital for sustaining wetland functioning. This land use regime must be based on viable and attractive enterprise development. The experience of this has been documented in many parts of Africa by staff and other researchers, and several projects have sought to test the wider applicability of these methods. Overall, it is clear that an integrated wetlands and catchment approach is needed, seeing these two elements as linked parts of the landscape with strong community institutions to manage these and clear economic incentives.
Research on indigenous knowledge (IK) and participatory planning has drawn attention to community-based, informal and often traditional institutions that play an important role in natural resource management. These institutions are often culturally and environmentally specific, and rooted in the social capital - the IK, social relationships, shared values and networks - of a society or community
Recognising strengths and weaknesses, empowering and involving these locally-based decision-making organisations within rural development initiatives is increasingly being seen as important for facilitating natural resource management that is equitable and sustainable, both socially and environmentally.
Structure of a wetland management institution in Ethiopia
CSRC has undertaken research investigating the contribution of local informal institutions to wetland management in Western Ethiopia. The research identified a range of institutional structures that influence wetland management strategies via rules and regulations developed by communities themselves. The research established a link between the presence of wetland management institutions and the sustainable management of wetlands.
- Indigenous Wetland Management Institutions: CSRC's ESRC funded research
- Community Organisation for Natural Resource Management: Report for the Ethiopian Wetlands Research Programme
Much of CSRC’s research has focused on the contribution of ‘Indigenous’ or ‘local’ knowledge (IK) in natural resource management and sustainable livelihoods.
Indigenous or local knowledge is the knowledge communities have of their environment, natural resources and their experiences of managing these. As a result, it is dynamic and evolves over time in response to the changing environmental, socio-economic and political conditions. Possessing such knowledge and possessing the capacity to adapt to various changes is an important element in achieving long-term environmental sustainability and livelihood security.
Indigenous knowledge of hydrological processes has led to the development of ditch-blocking practices. These ensure water level in this wetland is carefully managed according to the moisture requirements of the crops under cultivation.
The Ethiopian Wetlands Research Programme (EWRP) (1997 - 2000), funded by the European Union, investigated practices and strategies employed by local communities to manage wetlands in a sustainable manner. The research showed that wetland users possessed extensive knowledge of ecohydrological processes and had developed management practices that balanced environmental sustainability with livelihood needs.
CSRC staff have also undertaken British Academy funded research looking into the processes influencing the evolution of IK (innovation, communication and adaptation) among wetland communities.
Recent ESRC funded research has focused on the role of indigenous institutions in developing IK and facilitating communication and co-ordination among stakeholders.
- Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor Paper
- The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Wetland Management: British Academy Project Report
- Wetland Management Institutions: ESRC Project Report
Wetlands and Food Security
Wetlands play a critical role in the survival of many communities across the world, particularly in semi-arid areas where, during dry periods, they are an important source of water for domestic use and the production of crops.
In most parts of the world, rural communities suffer from seasonal variations in food supply and the “hungry season” is a key feature of life for many millions of people.
Wetland grown vegetables "flooding" the markets in Malawi in the dry season
This food shortage is often addressed by the drainage of wetlands or the use of areas with seepage water or a high water table to produce food crops in the dry season. Such crops can make a dramatic impact upon the availability of food in the hungry season, and even though the production is small, its value is great.
In some areas where uplands are badly degraded, wetlands can play a very important role in food security. This is the case in Western Wellega in Ethiopia, and also in Madagascar, where the concentration of nutrients and water in the valleys is the basis for survival.
CSRC is concerned with learning lessons from such systems and ensuring that they are environmentally and economically sustainable in the long term. Recent work has included training courses for government staff and communities in such areas as wetlands and food security, and developing with them local monitoring methods to measure sustainability.
Climate Change and Wetlands
Wetlands play a vital role in the carbon cycle and wetland loss may have impacts which encourage global warming and climate change.
Understanding the implications of wetland transformation for carbon sequestration and the way in which different wetland management regimes can impact upon this process is one theme addressed by CSRC.
In the medium term it may be possible to link development funds to improved community management of wetlands and thereby have an impact upon carbon storage and climate change. However, for this to come about a better understanding is needed of the link between wetland use, carbon sequestration and economic incentives.
A degraded wetland in Ethiopia
Large amounts of carbon are fixed by wetland vegetation and in peat soils
A critical consideration in this work is the way in which economically attractive uses of wetlands can be developed which meet community / land user needs whilst also maintaining the carbon storage within wetlands.
The need for policies to achieve the appropriate management of wetlands is now widely recognized as these areas are increasingly under pressure for different uses. However, as yet, for many governments, wetlands are not yet included in the debate about development and natural resource management. This is despite the fact that they are critical areas for water storage and supply, biodiversity and craft material production, and for cultivation and grazing.
There are different international policy positions, some of which see wetlands as critical conservation areas, while others see them as important agro-development resources. Many governments are in the process of considering how they should respond to these differing view points.
Brick making along a wetland edge in Uganda. Local community bylaws can help ensure sustainable use of these areas
CSRC has always sought to contribute to wetland policy debates by seeking to raise awareness of wetland issues and include all stakeholders perspectives in policy discussion. The centre’s particular expertise is in helping bring local and community level perspectives into the debate and in trying to strike a balance between wetland conservation and development through sustainable use. In most of the work completed, policy briefing notes have been a key mechanism to disseminate findings and inform decision-makers about theissues to be considered in policy development, whether this be for wetlands directly or for policies which indirectly affect these areas. Using this material, CSRC has undertaken workshops at the national and regional level, in different Africa countries, and with government and NGO groups to raise awareness.
Gender and Socio-Economics
The benefits from natural resources are not evenly distributed. Particular skills, divisions of labour or access rights often determine that certain groups within a community gain more or less from the natural resource base.
With economic changes, there is a tendency for certain powerful groups to try to appropriate open access resources and to exclude weaker groups.
Supplementing farm income with craft production using papyrus
Such trends have been identified through CSRC work with respect to wetlands and also non-timber forest resources. Wetland agriculture for instance often leads to the drying out of springs so that women have to walk further to get water supplies, or have to use other less pure sources of water. It is the rich who usually gain access to the wetlands for farming and have the resources to use these areas while the poor are the ones who lose access to collected products, such as craft materials and thatching when wetlands are drained.
Desertification is a growing challenge.
One neglected aspect of this challenge is the loss of wetlands through drainage and degradation. This can remove critical sources of moisture in dry areas, causing springs to dry up and making the flow of streams and rivers more seasonal.
Degraded catchment and severly over-drained wetland
Wetland degradation is often associated with changes in land use in catchments so that there is reduced water infiltration, while specific management practices within wetlands also usually contribute to wetland loss.
CSRC and partners have been involved in measures to rehabilitate degraded wetlands and to reverse wetland loss through the Ethiopian Wetlands Research Project (1997-2000) and its follow-up activities. This work has monitored wetland sites subject to degradation and rehabilitation, identifying appropriate measures for wetland rehabilitation. This work has been taken further with the Ethio-Wetlands and Natural Resources Association through a pilot project which is developing integrated wetland and catchment management measures. This package of measures, proven in the south-west of the country, is now being tested in the more degraded northern part of Ethiopia where a wetland rehabilitation project is being implemented in association with the Convention to Combat Desertification (2004-2006).
The need for a landscape approach to wetland rehabilitation in order to achieve sustainable wetland management is acknowledged in many parts of Eastern and Southern Africa and projects to develop community-based approaches to this are being explored by CSRC in association with Wetland Action and other NGO partners.
Stakeholder participation in natural resource management and development strategies is fundamental to achieving long-term sustainability. Participation means involving all the resource stakeholders from the outset of the research process, and developing local capacity so that management decisions are based on a consensus and equitable resource use.
Participation also means that research is not a static or prescriptive process but must involve communities developing their own capacity to solve problems.
The dissemination and discussion of research findings among those who participate in natural resources research is an essential part of the evolution of resource management capacity and strategy development.
Involving people from the start of the project activities - an assessment to design a project
Participation is a fundamental component of CSRC’s research, consultancy and development activities. For example, projects involving investigations of IK have facilitated community meetings, farmer exchange visits and empowered communities to communicate natural resource management information between communities.
Through undertaking a range of projects in a participatory manner, CSRC has developed a number of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) field techniques that have been adapted to wetlands research