Phase II: Building capacity for changed practices
Wetlands are important ecosystem components for catchment water security because of their role in water regulation and water quality moderation, and because they possess unique biodiversity and offer important livelihood benefits. However, the use of wetlands for small-scale farming is eroding the wetland integrity and associated ecosystem services in many valley wetlands in Southern Africa, due to unsustainable practices.
Wetlands play an important role in water and livelihood security in the communal lands of the north-eastern region of South Africa, offering the only source of food for the majority of farmers. Links between farming practices both within the wetland and on surrounding hill slopes and wetland degradation, has been demonstrated by previous research. Ultimately, erosion results in the wide-scale desiccation of the micro-catchment through the lowering of the water table.
The use of action research and small-scale farmer projects as a means to raise awareness to change the current practices of wetland use, seeks to support the sustainable use of wetlands. Some of these fields have been in operation for over forty years as a piece of land gets handed down from generation to generation, which inherits past practices. Interventions need to take this into account and needs to be based on understanding wetland function rather than on imposed practices.
An action-research focus was adopted to address wetland integrity in the Sand River Catchment focusing on the premise that farmers’ knowledge can be enhanced by collaborative project design, both amongst themselves and with the research team. Changed practices are more likely to be realised if farmers themselves are involved in the research process. Actions need to be accompanied by a monitoring system, also designed for farmer involvement, in order to substantiate improved wetland integrity.