Wetlands and Livelihoods Phase I and Phase II [2003 - ongoing]
This project focuses on the vulnerable wetlands of the Sand River Catchment (SRC) along with the vulnerable livelihoods of the people who farm in these wetlands. The project is based in the village of Craigieburn as a pilot, and is now in Phase II. A number of issues were highlighted by Phase 1 which have important bearing on wetland rehabilitation and management and these form the basis for various interrelated projects of Phase II, including:
- the need for structural rehabilitation (see Working for Wetland Support and Rehabilitation in Craigieburn)
- the need for a farmer support programme for raising awareness and capacity (ses Farmer Support Programme)
- the link between the wetlands and the poor state of the surrounding micro catchment (see Upland Rehabilitation) and
- the need for improved governance of land and natural resources (see Governance Project).
An action-research approach runs through all of these projects. Also some specific research is being undertaken where needed (see Understanding Hydrological Functioning of Wetlands).
The wetlands project in a nutshell
The wetlands of the upper Sand River lie in communal areas and play an important role in local-catchment water security and the livelihoods of local people. Indeed, the ‘wetland health and livelihood security’ project was initiated partly in response to an approach by wetland users who requested support in addressing wetland degradation. Initial visits also suggested that most of the farmers were women, often constituting the poorest of the poor. Loss of wetland integrity is therefore likely to exacerbate their already precarious livelihoods. We adopted an integrated approach to address both biophysical and social aspects. Phase I was primarily research-based in order to understand the underlying causes and their effects and ultimate impacts. Phase II focused on implementation but underscored by a strong action-research approach designed to facilitate learning-by-doing and co-learning. This is based on the philosophy that in complex, dynamic systems – such as the wetlands of Craigieburn – multiple factors are operative and outcomes cannot be predicted with complete certainty. Thus we believe one cannot approach this with simplistic solutions such as a set of ‘best practices’ or only by establishing multi-stakeholder platforms. All these elements are important but will not bring effective change alone.
Summary of findings from Phase I: Developing understanding of the biophysical and socio-economic setting
The wetland farmers who approached AWARD for support in addressing wetland degradation cited desiccation, erosion and reduced fertility as key concerns. The baseline research (Phase I) established the relationship between these factors and demonstrated that indeed wetland integrity was being severely compromised by both within-wetland practices, as well as by landuse practices in the surrounding micro-catchment (see Pollard et al. 2005). In summary, an intimate relationship exists between landuse practices, infiltration - and runoff - and erosion, and between erosion and a reduction in the water table. Landscape desiccation reflects a change in these relationships as described below.
Major threats to Craigieburn wetlands and peoples’ livelihoods.
The micro-catchment area of the wetlands under consideration is approximately 140 ha. As mentioned, erosion is a major threat and it, in turn, impacts on production. Erosion is caused by a number of factors both natural and anthropogenic in nature. A key issue is the link between wetlands and the surrounding micro-catchment. On the hillslopes the lack of adequate vegetational cover - or soil and water conservation practices - as well as poorly-conserved fields, all result in increase runoff and higher water velocities that, combined with the soil properties and an extensive path and track network that concentrates runoff, all contributes to the observed erosion (sheet deposits, rills and gullies). Within the wetlands, a number of landuse practices exacerbate erosion and hence desiccation, either directly but reducing soil structure or by increasing water velocity. The associated reduction in fertility, also compounded by practices that directly reduced organic matter, result in reduced agricultural production. This has implications for peoples’ livelihoods.
The area suffers the legacy of Apartheid's forced-removals policy. Between 1965 and 1974 the residential areas increased dramatically and the population increased by 1000%. It is estimated that between 60 and 70% of Craigieburn residents use wetlands to sustain their livelihoods. The overriding profile of wetland users is that of women between 35 and 70 years of age - mainly from single-headed households. In general, livelihoods are very vulnerable. A quarter of all households has minimal income and secures food through what they grow. Indeed, only 14% of users are regarded as well-off, whereas over half (60%) of users have limited income. Some 60% of households accessed their land by opening up fields without any permission or negotiation, pointing to the erosion of community-based governance. Equally striking is that 63% have accessed their fields in the last 10 years, citing hunger as the key driver. Craigieburn wetlands offer an important safety-net, particularly for the poor, and are estimated to contribute 40% of the food grown.
The wetlands are used mainly for subsistence agriculture. Farmers grow a variety of crops depending which zone of the wetland is used (see Farmer Support Project) but by far the most commonly grown crop is Colocasia esculenta (marope or madumbe).
The study concluded that agricultural utilization of the wetlands should be based on the realization that wetlands derive their potential from high moisture and organic matter content of the soil. However wetlands tend to be highly sensitive and fragile.
The following factors need consideration in rehabilitation and management.
- The micro-catchment area has to allow rainwater to infiltrate, to slowly release this water subterraneously into the wetland, and to have erosion from surface runoff reduced to the barest minimum.
- The wetland should have capacity to receive both catchment and incident water without being eroded, hold excess water and release it slowly into streams.
- The wetland must have capacity to accumulate organic matter.
- The wetland needs to be able to receive and accommodate soil and solute eroded from the micro-catchment area, and prevent the scouring and gullying, reducing siltation in the stream.
- The critical balance between inputs and outputs - water, nutrients and soil - has to be maintained.
Importantly, since the impacts on wetlands arise from interplay of within wetland activities with micro-catchment practices, both of these issues need to be addressed with full involvement of Craigieburn residents.
The initial research in these wetlands (Pollard et al. 2005) revealed a range of farmer practices that had both negative and positive effects on wetland integrity.
Phase II: Building capacity for changed practices in the Wetlands
Phase II, which flowed from this research, was designed to improve wetland health and hence peoples’ livelihoods that are dependent on these wetlands. This was designed to include a number of components which were developed in a phased manner. In addition to the need for technical rehabilitation of three large headcuts that threaten these wetlands (see Working for Wetlands), and for community-based governance of these wetland areas (see Governance of Wetlands Natural Resources) Phase II aimed to address land use practices that contribute to the degradation of the wetland. By working with the users of the wetland (see Farmer Support Project), and residents in general (see Upland Rehabilitation), as well as other stakeholders such as the agricultural extension officers, we hope to collaboratively learn about and effect change to achieve wise and sustainable use. Developing good practice amongst resource users was conceptualised through collaboratively defined projects to learn from action, developing the capacity of agricultural extension officers to work as partners in community-based initiatives, and developing a methodology for working with rural communities in communal natural resource use and management.
A major component of Phase II aims to support improved practices in order to rehabilitate the wetlands and therefore impact positively on peoples’ livelihoods. This consists of three research components that accompany the farmers support programme. A strong research orientation underpins the work of Phase II in a number of ways. The first of these is the field assessments designed to track changing practices throughout the farmers support programme. Secondly, research is being undertaken to understand the learning processes associated with the development of wetland practices. This is being done through participatory methods and discourse analysis. Thirdly, indicators are being developed to assess the situation, to track change and to evaluate impacts (see Indicators: Sustainability Indicators in Communal Wetlands and their Catchments).