A project supporting African commu- nities in developing more sustainable approaches to farming in wetland areas is achieving positive results, according to research conducted earlier this year, with communities experiencing increased crop yields.
Farming households have also diversified their income to include poultry, pig rearing, vegetable trading and grain production, international development agency Self Help Africa (SHA) communications officer George Jacob tells Engineering News.
“Committees also have greater control over the use of water in wetland areas, with upland deforestation having been reduced and tree nurseries being established,” he says.
Through a coordinated and community-based approach, the project focuses on the steps that can and should be taken to preserve, restore and protect an existing natural amenity.
The principal technologies used are irrigation channels to allow for the easy irrigation of plots, and the regulated use of treadle pumps, which are commonly used by dambo farmers to convey water from hand-dug water holes in the land or from nearby dambo watercourses.
‘Dambo’ is a local word used in Zambia and Zimbabwe and is defined as the seasonally waterlogged, predominantly grass-covered depressions, or wetlands, bordering head-water drainage lines in Central, Southern and Eastern Africa.
Six years ago, SHA partnered with UK nongovernment organisation Wetland Action to combat the threat of degraded wetlands as a result of overfarming, poor farming practices and a changing climate, explains Jacob.
SHA notes that recent follow-up research into the effectiveness of the functional landscape approach (FLA) to wetland farming and land stewardship shows that village committees continue to oversee the regulations they put in place at the start of the project and champion socially sustainable solutions for water management.
Water supply and water management are collectively one of the key challenges currently facing most African smallholders, notes SHA, which works closely with farming com- munities living close to and benefiting from seasonal wetlands in Malawi and Zambia.
SHA reports that the approach has been widely embraced by participating villages in Malawi and Zambia, owing to the positive results over the last six years.
“Yields increased from 30% to 60%, depend- ing on the crop. “There has been increased income and savings of up to $200 a year and children are [contracting] fewer illnesses, owing to better nutrition and, therefore, more children are attending school,” says Jacob.
He explains that the activities undertaken follow an FLA, devised by Wetland Action and designed to offer farming communities a locally based means of addressing the environmental, livelihood and social challenges resulting from the deteriorating agri-cultural potential of the dambo wetland areas.
These wetlands provide a range of eco-system services and are attractive because the availability of water can ensure several harvests a year.
However, with growing pressure on land, owing to increased farming, and without careful management, the dambos can easily degrade irreversibly and become drylands.
SHA believes that preserving these seasonal wetlands in pristine condition is not feasible, given the overriding need for poverty reduction; therefore, careful management based on long-term self-interest is the best way forward.
Together with village-based natural resource management committees, new bylaws have been introduced for wetland use, some of which entail that livestock always be supervised in the wetland. “A 5 m buffer zone from the centre of the wetland was also introduced by implementing a border to prevent cultivation, ensuring water storage is maintained. A ban was also placed on removing indigenous trees from the wetland,” says Jacob.
skills development, social organ-isations and the emergence of individual and collective beliefs in the ability to affect change, are fundamental for economic, social and political growth and cannot be separated from the wetlands and its ability to alleviate poverty.