Wetlands: towards a sustainable future
Wetland environments, including freshwater floodplains and coastal deltas, can be highly productive; more than 700 million people around the world depend directly on them, whether for crop production, fishing, livestock rearing or other natural resources. But wetland livelihoods typically face a myriad of constraints, and increasingly extreme and unpredictable seasonal rainfall patterns are making matters worse for many.
In response, the CGIAR has launched the Aquatic Agricultural Systems research programme, to support wetland communities in optimising both the protection and productivity of their environment. Focussing initially on Zambia, Bangladesh and the Solomon Islands, a series of workshops is now underway, involving key figures from research, policy making and community organisations, in order to help shape a research action plan. At the first workshop in Mongu, western Zambia, participants shared their ideas on the challenges facing wetland livelihoods, and ways towards a productive and sustainable future.
The floodplain is a precarious environment. By its nature it causes disruption in daily lives. Families have adapted to living in rigorous conditions, moving to avoid the floods while at the same time providing a livelihood.
Charles Crissman, WorldFish Center
Over the years we have had serious seasonal flooding. In the past people knew when the next high floods were coming and would prepare, but since 2000 with the changes in climate, floods and sometimes even partial drought occur often and take people by surprise. The canals, clogged by silt, grass and soil, also overflow and flood the fields before crops mature.
Albert Mulanda, Project Coordinator, Caritas Mongu
The unpredictability in weather patterns makes it difficult for people to plan their livestock, fishing and farming activities. The weather shocks destroy housing, infrastructure and roads as well as crops - the investment people make in agriculture can literally be washed away.
Everisto Mapedza, Social scientist, International Water Management Institute
Sometimes we get exceptionally dry conditions and the floodplains seem to be shrinking. They become more crowded now than before, because people with animals like cattle have moved away from the highlands to find water, and they crowd the floodplains. Water is running out and this depletes the floodplain resource.
Sesele Sokotela, Climate change advisor, World Bank
There is a lot of illegal fishing where fishermen use illegal gear like sefa-sefa nets, big nets joined together with very fine mesh - even mosquito nets - to draw in the fish. Fishermen deliberately block canals so they can catch more fish, and the fish cannot go and breed. This stops the resource from regenerating itself and becomes a challenge for the whole community who can only catch smaller fish.
Alex Chilala, Department of Fisheries, Zambia
Too often the private sector just come in, reap what they can get and walk away. It will be a sad situation where people make money once and can't come back because they have depleted the resources. I think the private sector needs to be more responsible, to plough back by restocking and also to buy fish in a more professional manner using grading systems, not just buying all sizes.
Fredrick Banda, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Zambia
Lack of education is a big problem within the floodplain communities and education is the only way to improve livelihoods and stop depletion of our resources. People use the wrong type of nets, catching small fish so that there are none left in the river. I think they should be sensitised so they see the weaknesses in practices like these.
Margaret Mubita, Senanga District Farmers Association, Zambia
There are multiple policies that govern the floodplains so there is fragmentation in management. The floodplains are one ecosystem, one entity providing a livelihood for crop cultivators, fishermen and livestock users. It is important to build congruence and look at development of the floodplains from a holistic point of view: a person farming up-stream should consider the impact of their actions down-stream.
Tabeth Chiuta, Regional Director for Africa, WorldFish Center
The floodplain system is a complete ecosystem, including the forests around them, the cropped area and the water which contains the fish. The tremendous water resource should be an opportunity, not a problem. But there are no resource management systems in place, so prized fish stocks and varieties are being lost.
Jojo Baidu-Forson, Regional Director for sub-Saharan Africa, Bioversity International
More holistic policies are needed to preserve the forest around floodplains, because these are water catchment areas and prevent soil erosion. We have to consider and keep the environment surrounding floodplains intact or we are going to kill them.
Sesele Sokotela, World Bank
Management systems have broken down. Research can look at new institutions, crops and systems to address this and allow people to take advantage of the water on the floodplain. It's about improving people's livelihoods through a strong network that's able to bring about change.
Boru Douthwaite, WorldFish Center
Sometimes there is policy confusion - there is no control. At the moment we don't know how many fishermen there are, it's each man for himself.
Very meaningful policies are there, the problem is with implementation. Whatever government desires to do must be given the go-ahead by very powerful traditional non-governmental authorities. You can't do anything if you do not liaise with them. If the traditional leaders do not give the go-ahead when the government issues a fishing ban, there is not much the government can do. We have to work together.
Previously, our people were in charge of the day-to-day conservation and management of our natural resources so they were more responsible. These resources were taken away from us by government, which is using ministries, like the Fisheries Department, which are ill funded and not able to reach out. As a result our forests are depleting, people are cutting timber anyhow, fires are burning and there is destruction. We want the feelings of belonging and ownership to be rekindled in our people so we can manage our own resources.
Induna Mayunyi, Barotse Royal Establishment, Zambia
I want to see a vision where local communities take the bull by the horns, to see a people who are well informed about the weather patterns so that they can manage their own activities and use conservation agriculture and other practices to reduce poverty and hunger.
Albert Mulanda, Caritas Mongu
There is a need to better understand value chains - the institutions, processes and stakeholders that make up the links in the chain between the people who fish, the traders through to consumers. By understanding how products move along the value chain, you can improve technologies and remove blockages. For example, fish processing by freezing or drying can increase longevity so it can be transported. We must also understand the power dynamics and relationships between traders, producers and consumers, which are often unequal throughout the value chain.
Kate Longley, WorldFish Center
Most governments generally have a 'hands- off' approach and say that people should be moving away from floodplains. But what we need to do is look at how we can incorporate local livelihoods, protecting the ecological integrity of wetlands while increasing productivity. How to strike a balance is a key question for researchers and policy developers in maintaining floodplain livelihoods.
Everisto Mapedza, International Water Management Institute
There probably is a future for people living on floodplains, but a balancing act between a safe, comfortable and empowered life and services provided by the floodplains has to be found.
We need to look at how floodplain communities shift due to flooding, and help them have permanent homes with a sustainable income from fishing without depleting stocks. This is a big challenge; that's why we need a consultative process - and research - to help us find a lasting solution.
John Kafuna, Minister for Western Province, Zambia
With contributions from: Georgina Smith
Date published: September 2012
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