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'Wiser' use of wetlands urged

Wetlands provide water and food for people and livestock (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Wetlands provide water and food for people and livestock
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

A 'people-centred' approach to wetland management, which seeks to optimise the benefits for smallholder farmers and reduce poverty, is necessary to conserve vital ecosystems and support the livelihoods of millions of people, according to a new report. Although agriculture does pose a serious threat to wetlands, Wetlands and People calls for a move away from the absolute protection of wetlands to an approach that integrates conservation with development.

"Wetlands and agriculture can and must coexist," explains Matthew McCartney, a hydrologist at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and contributor to the report. "We need policies on wetlands that support ecosystems, sustain rich biodiversity, and simultaneously improve the livelihoods of farming communities who depend on wetlands or whose activities directly affect them. We need to find a way to have the best of both worlds."

The report highlights a number of examples in Africa, Asia and Latin America of the value of wetlands to poor, rural communities and ways to manage them sustainably. For example, new laws in Cambodia have been established to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use, in order to preserve water quality. In China, farmers have been encouraged to move away from practices that harm wetlands, by diversifying into tourism and more sustainable methods. "Outright protection of wetlands is incompatible with farming and undermines livelihoods. We've frequently seen these approaches fail in the past," says McCartney. "But there are landscape approaches and agricultural practices that can support and sustain healthy wetlands, and vice versa. Working with local communities will help us find the best solutions."

Date published: February 2014


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