The Makuya Wetland Indaba took place in October 2013 and was hosted by community research monitors who are part of the Wise Use Project, being implemented by the Association for Water and Rural Development in collaboration with the Mondi Wetlands Programme and Working for Wetlands, based at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).
The Indaba was an opportunity for communities around the Makuya Wetlands in Venda to share their experiences of the project, which was designed to “get local users to take ownership of our wetlands and natural resources,” says Sharon Pollard, Director at the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD).
The project was a response to issues that the national Working for Wetlands programme noted following their work to rehabilitate wetlands. “It was clear that support for good stewardship by land owners and users was necessary, so we designed a project to hand the research process over to local community monitors,” explains Pollard. “We said this is your wetland and you need to set the questions and undertake the research yourselves.”
To Pollard’s knowledge, this is the first time this approach has been tried in South Africa and the results have been extremely promising.
With support from AWARD, 40 community-based researchers and monitors who act as mediators were equipped to do research according to priorities the community identified. “There is a huge amount that people already know, but much of it is implicit so part of our role has also been to help people express their knowledge,” says Pollard. They have also learnt new skills, like how to make proper geo-reference maps. “By getting involved in research, communities bring about transformation in their own lives.”
The team from AWARD also helped the community monitors to analyse their data, which they then presented at the Indaba, which Pollard describes as “one of the most special things we’ve ever done.”
The project has significantly raised the profile of wetlands in communities. “Wetlands like Makuya contribute to food security and supply materials like reeds to people, but they also play a ‘hidden’ role. Intact, functioning wetlands contribute to the quality of people’s lives in multiple ways,” says Pollard.
She believes that striking a successful balance between use and protection is up to local users. “The process we’ve engaged in over the last few years builds social capital such as trust and identity that support responsible custodianship.”
In this way, AWARD’s work goes beyond simply addressing physical problems like soil erosion and deals cause of wetlands degradation; while at the same time equipping people to come up with their own solutions for the long-term sustainability of their natural resources.
For more information on this project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.