WWF Mondi Wetlands Programme
Despite providing these essential ecological goods and services, some two-thirds of the planet’s wetlands have been destroyed since the turn of the 20th Century, and South Africa has lost over half its wetlands. Needless to say, wetland conservation has a crucial role to play in securing our country’s freshwater sources, in turn promoting local economic and social development.
The year 2016 marks a laudable milestone in the history of wetland conservation in South Africa: the 25th anniversary of the WWF-Mondi Wetlands Programme (WWF ‑MWP). As one of the country’s longest running privately funded conservation programmes, it has stimulated an understanding of the important role wetlands play and helped move wetlands to the forefront of conservation efforts over the past 25 years. Just as importantly, it has driven change in the way wetlands are identified, delineated, restored and protected across sectors in South Africa and beyond.
This publication tells the story of the programme’s rich history and key achievements.
The WWF Mondi Wetlands Programme, has been at the forefront of pioneering the rehabilitation and restoration of wetlands across South Africa. Started in 1991 as a collaboration between WWF-SA and WESSA, it is one of the country’s longest running privately-funded ecological conservation programmes and the first wetland initiative to focus on the protection of wetlands outside of protected areas.
The Mondi Wetlands Programme was also instrumental is catalysing the government initiative, Working for Wetlands, which began in 2000. This initiative alleviates poverty by using previously unemployed people to rehabilitate degraded wetlands, thereby maintaining biodiversity and ensuring long-term water security. Until 2006, the Mondi Wetlands Programme provided direct guidance and support for Working for Wetlands.
Now, it works in major water-stressed catchments with industries that have traditionally impacted wetlands and water resources – like sugar, dairy and forestry – using its resilient landscape-approach to water stewardship. Focused on both water quality and quantity in key catchments, water stewardship activities are scientifically based and practical to implement. This is aimed at strengthening natural freshwater infrastructure through creating a deeper understanding of shared responsibilities and shared risks with everyone involved in a product’s value chain, not just landowners and farmers.
- Mondi Ltd
- Maas Maasen and WWF-Netherlands
- WWF Nedbank Green Trust
- Mondi Ltd
- New Generation Plantations Platform
- South African Sugar Association
- Union Co-op Limited
- Noodsberg and Eston Canegrowers Associations
- Milk Producers Organisation (MPO)
- Dairy farmers in upper Mooi-Mpofana and Karkloof catchments
We want wetlands and water resources to be managed across physical boundaries, so that it isn’t just the responsibility of the farmer or the landowner, but that everyone involved in the value chain accepts responsibility for the sustainable use of water within key production areas.
What is Ramsar?
Working with different sectors to deeper understand wetlands management
Over the past 23 years, the MWP has worked with local, provincial and national government, as well as with private and communal landowners, who have an interest in improving wetland and catchment stewardship practices. It has worked extensively with the plantation forestry and sugar growing industries to improve better production practices. The MWP has supported these sectors to use a number of wetland management tools, and deeper understand what wetland management entails. It has done this by working collaboratively with these sectors, through using meaningful social learning processes, approaches, and safe learning spaces to achieve this. The MWP has developed a number of technical tools for understanding different aspects of wetland management and strengthening sustainability practices in these sectors. For example, these include tools that determine a deeper understanding of wetland health and the ecosystem services they provide; wetland rehabilitation and wise use of wetland resources; ground truthing National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas and linking this with the municipal fine scale conservation planning as a vehicle to develop stakeholder capacity; social learning methodologies for fostering stewardship of communally owned wetlands; and a sustainable sugar farm management tool to improve land stewardship by commercial sugarcane growers.
A new innovative way of working – the resilient landscape approach
In January 2014, the MWP embarked on a new and innovative way of working to secure the freshwater ecological infrastructure in three priority catchments: the upper Umgeni and its neighbouring Upper Umvoti catchments (KwaZulu-Natal), and the Groot Brak catchment (Southern Cape). It is called the “resilient landscape” based approach to freshwater ecosystem stewardship. This approach is aimed at strengthening the resilience of the freshwater ecological infrastructure in these catchments. It is doing this by working with key stakeholders in these catchments, to collaboratively share their learning to gain a deeper understanding of the shared value of the freshwater ecological infrastructure to different business interests, shared risk of its degradation, and shared actions to secure the integrity of these freshwater ecosystems. To our knowledge, this has not been attempted before on a catchment scale, either in South Africa, or regionally in Africa. The innovation in this new approach is that it is not taking an individual landowner approach, nor a specific agricultural sector approach (such as the sugar industry), but a landscape one that integrates multiple land users in multifunctional landscapes. The key to success of this resilient landscape work, is to understand how to connect individual risk, to shared risk, leading to shared action. The resilient landscape approach is therefore about doing something that is both in the interest of the key stakeholders in a catchment in a very selfish way, but also in the interest of the collective stakeholders in the catchment.
Goal of the MWP’s resilient landscape work
Pilot projects in 3 priority catchments in South Africa securing freshwater ecological infrastructure, through collaboratively enhanced capacity, shared water risk and actions of key stakeholders from different land use sectors across the value chain; while sharing lessons of the methodology, tools, social learning approaches, and sustainability practices internationally into WWF and Mondi operations in Africa, Europe, and Russia, as well as with partner organisations the MWP works with.
Skills of the MWP staff
The resilient landscape approach requires staff who have the disciplinary skills of the social sciences, enabling an understanding of what social change is, how adults learn through change orientated adult learning, and how shared values, shared risk, shared learning, and shared action can be catalysed and supported through appropriate expansive social learning processes and multi stakeholder participation platforms. It also requires staff who have the disciplinary skills of the natural sciences, to support a technical understanding of the assessment of wetlands and freshwater ecosystems, and how their resilience can be strengthened through improved sustainability practices. The MWP staff and its associates it works with, have these skills and academic backgrounds in the social and natural sciences, as well as the practical experience of working at the interface of social and ecological systems. This is what makes the MWP an innovative programme well suited for this work. This multidisciplinary approach brings a fresh and innovative way of working with catchment stakeholders on freshwater ecosystem stewardship.
Motivation behind the MWP’s resilient landscape work
Water stress in South Africa is fast drawing towards a critical point. The gap between water demand and supply is projected to reach 17% in South Africa by 2030. Unfortunately in South Africa, poor governance and mismanagement of the water resource, freshwater ecosystems, and their adjacent catchments, together with the increasing population, urbanisation, and economic development, have led to this grossly disproportionate imbalance between water supply and demand. The 2004 National Biodiversity Assessment highlighted the shocking state of river ecosystems in South Africa, with 84% of freshwater ecosystems associated with South Africa’s large rivers being critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. The rapidly decreasing quality of water in South Africa’s rivers was also noted with concern. Wetlands were found to be the most threatened ecosystem in South Africa, with the National Assessment reporting that 48% of the wetland types in South Africa were critically endangered, 12% endangered, and 5% vulnerable, indicating the alarming situation South Africa’s wetlands are in.
This gap between water demand and supply will place severe limitations not only on South Africa’s economic growth, but also on the country’s ability to increase the quality of life for many of its poorer citizens who are still caught in the complex whirlpool of poverty. This will further compound the difficulties in maintaining healthy rivers and wetlands that provide life-sustaining ecosystem services. A high level of cooperative planning will be required between all water users and responsible water management authorities to ensure that water can be made available when it is needed, and used wisely. This will require responsible local, provincial and national authorities to go beyond the areas that are normally considered ‘water business’, involving major changes in the way that authorities, business, agriculture, and civil society work together to meet the rising water demands of South Africa’s future.
Business UNUSUAL will require key stakeholders to understand the value of wisely managing freshwater ecological infrastructure on a catchment scale, and the risks associated with its degradation. Despite South Africa’s innovative water regulations, held to high acclaim by governments around the world, there is insufficient enforcement of the National Water Act and its regulations, and little meaningful stakeholder engagement in wisely managing water resources. This provides minimal protection to freshwater ecological infrastructure from impacting land uses. There is therefore an urgent need to involve key stakeholders and landowners who have the power and control to influence the improved management of freshwater ecological infrastructure at a landscape or catchment scale.