World Wetlands Day, February 2nd, 2017

For almost 20 years Wetland Action has been advocating the need for people-centred wetland management. Hence we are pleased to see that for the third consecutive year, World Wetland Day has focused on specific ways in which wetlands can help people. Previously these have been focused on livelihoods and on agriculture. 

For World Wetlands Day 2017 we are celebrating the Ramsar Convention’s theme of ‘Wetlands for disaster risk reduction’. This emphasises the critical role that wetlands play in reducing disasters by ameliorating floods and protecting coastal areas from storm surges and tsunamis.

However, it must also be recognised that wetlands play a critical role in helping overcome other types of disasters. These may include the failure of rain-fed crops due to drought, the need for critical food supply in the hungry time of a normal year, and crop losses due to floods or diseases. In addition, wetlands can provide ways in which farmers can diversify their crops and harvest times, reduce risks and increase resilience. Some farmers can even generate cash reserves from wetland farming and these they can be used to develop new on-farm or off-farm enterprises.  

The idea of wetlands supporting peoples’ livelihoods around the world, and achieving sustainable development outcomes, is central to Wetland Action.

This concept, and examples of best practice in people-centred wetland management, have recently been explored in our pioneering book, “Wetland management and sustainable livelihoods in Africa”, published in collaboration with IWMI and through Earthscan.   The book reviews nine case studies of agriculture in wetlands across the sub-Saharan continent, and draws a series of conclusions about how to ensure sustainable use. These include that:

a)    People must be at the centre of wetland management in order to ensure the sustainable multiple use of wetlands; people are the solution to sustaining wetlands;

b)    Wetland management should be led by the people who use wetlands, not outsiders;

c)    Wetlands have critical roles to play in addressing the development challenges facing Africa today, notably poverty, population growth, and the impacts of climate change;

d)    Trade-offs amongst different ecosystem services are necessary when agriculture is developed in wetlands, but a balance can be maintained which sustains wetland agriculture and maintains other wetland ecosystem services;

e)    Local knowledge and local institutions are key elements in developing sustainable wetland management and must be developed and used, although a wider catchment and basin wide perspective often needs to be developed and may require contributions from ‘formal’ sciences;

f)     Government policies need to recognise the livelihood value of wetlands and build supportive policies with local community engagement;

g)    A socio-ecological perspective recognising the socio-economic and ecological aspects must be adopted by those involved in policy making and planning for wetlands, just as it is part of community level views;

h)    A reflexive approach is needed in wetland management with ‘learning by doing’ a regular part of the approach.


Wetland Action is working with a number of NGOs and other partners in Africa to apply these lessons and help ensure that wetlands continue to provide livelihood benefits and a range of other ecosystem services so as to sustain wetlands and the various enterprises practised in them in the long term.