02 February 2014 is World Wetlands day

Event date: 
2014-01-31 (All day)



introduction -the beginning2014 is the UN International Year of Family Farming – so the Ramsar Convention chose Wetlands and Agriculture as the World Wetlands Day theme for 2014. And what a great theme for Ramsar, given that wetlands are so often intimately linked with agriculture. Our slogan? Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth, placing a focus on the need for the wetland and agricultural sectors (and the water sector too of course) to work together for the best shared outcomes.

Wetlands have often been seen as a barrier to agriculture, and they continue to be drained and reclaimed to make farming land available. But the essential role of wetlands in support of agriculture is becoming clearer and clearer, and there are successful agricultural practices which support healthy wetlands.



Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for growth


Celebration of Wetlands Day 2014

The Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Mrs Rejoice Mabudafhasi (MP) will lead the 2014 Celebration of World Wetlands Day and official handover of the RAMSAR Certificate to Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve.

Date: Friday, 31 January 2014
Time: 09:00 – 15:00
Venue: Mbongolwane Sports Ground, Eshowe

As part of illustrating the relationship between wetlands and agriculture, and the benefits that this can bring to rural communities, a tour was taken during the celebrations to the Mbongolwane Wetlands in Eshowe.


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The Mbongolwane wetland and its uses for local people

Many poor rural communities depend strongly on wetlands and the abundant resources that they provide. The Mbongolwane wetland, approximately 395 ha in extent and 12 km long, is in the headwaters of the Amatikulu catchment about 20 km west of Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal. It exists within the uMlalazi Local and the uThungulu District municipalities, 40km west of Eshowe, 88.6km from Richards Bay airport and 80km away from Durban airport. The rainfall this region receives annually is estimated at 900mm with maximum rainfall occurring from December to February.

The three primary zones within the wetland are Phragmites marsh in the wettest permanently waterlogged areas, ikhwane (Cyperus latifolius) marsh in the permanently to seasonally waterlogged areas and wet grassland in temporarily waterlogged areas.  Principal land covers in the wetland’s catchment are sugar cane, natural vegetation and cropland (mainly maize).  The wetland falls within the KwaNtuli Tribal Ward, with 9 of the 22 sub-wards including portions of the wetland.

Owing to the reasonably intact state of the wetland and the high level of human and agricultural activity in the catchment, the wetland is likely to have an important function in trapping sediment and improving water quality.  The wetland is in Veld Type 5, the native vegetation of which has been highly transformed.  Thus, remaining native vegetation areas, such as most of the wetland have high biodiversity conservation value.


The household survey revealed that 88% of the households currently use the wetland, for a variety of purposes, which are listed below in order of their percentage occurrence.
Cultivation: 78% (of the households)
Harvesting of wetland plants for crafts & construction: 70%
Water for bathing/ washing:   64%
Soil for domestic use: 48%
Livestock watering:  40%
Drinking water:  38%
Livestock grazing: 36%
Medicinal plants 36%
Tourism/visitors 36%
Cultural/religious 32%
Hunting  24%
Fishing 12%


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Approximately 10% of the area of the wetland is used for cultivation. Based on interpretation of aerial photos dating from the earliest in 1936 up until 1991, together with interviews with key informants, a trend of increasing extent of wetland cultivation in the wetland is observed. However, following the mid-1990s the extent of cultivation has declined.  This can be attributed, at least in part, to the last 6 years having generally above average rainfall.  Cultivation within the wetland is dominated by three crops: madumbes [Colocasia esculenta] (82% of households cultivating the wetland), cabbages (31%) and onions (23%).  An average of approximately 34% of madumbes, 35% of onions and 18% of the cabbage produced by each household are sold.

By far the most abundant crop in the wetland are madumbes, which are tolerant of the waterlogged conditions found in wetlands and make an important contribution to income generation and household food security.  Based on an estimate of 2.5 ha cultivated this year in the Mbongolwane wetland, a yield of 30 tonnes per ha, retention of 25% of the crop for planting the next year and a sale of approximately 34% of the crop then this translates into: R 51 000 total gross income from sale and 31 tonnes available for domestic use.

Cultivation of the wetland accounts for 21% of the overall agricultural income generated by the farmers surveyed.  The most important contributor to overall agricultural income is sugar cane, produced almost entirely outside of the wetland.  Approximately 1 500 ha of the wetland’s catchment is, in fact, under sugar production.

Cultivation in the wetland takes place within: (1) community gardens (currently two are active) where individual members each hold their own plot but work collectively to obtain seedlings and advice and fence in the garden; (2) isolated individual plots which are not part of any organizational structure.  At least 80% of the cultivators in the wetland are women and almost all the work is done by hand, including the collection of water for irrigation with buckets.  This contrasts with the situation outside the wetland where farming (mainly of sugar cane) is dominated by men.

The potential for expanding the area under cultivation is limited to less than approximately 10 ha, owing principally to the permanently waterlogged state of much of the wetland and high erosion potential of some of the less wet areas which would otherwise be suitable.

A wide range of plant species are harvested, with the most commonly used of these listed in order of popularity:

  • Cyperus latifolius (ikhwane), which covers approximately 80 ha of the wetland and is used for sleeping mats, floor mats and baskets
  • Phragmites australis (umhlanmga) and Phragmites mauritianus (ngqolwana, umhlanga) which cover approximately 76 ha and are used for mainly for thatching
  • Cyperus sexangularis (imizi) used mainly for isithebe (traditional eating mats)

In the past, ikhwane was largely sold in the local market.  However, over the last two years the Land Care project has assisted the local craft group, Thubaleth’ elihle, in developing new products and accessing new markets. This has resulted in the generation of a net income of R41 000 for the last year from the sale of the recently developed ikhwane conference folders to outside markets. The amount of raw material in the wetland is considerably greater than that currently being utilized.  Therefore the potential to increase production is high provided that the market, which appears to have great potential, can be more fully exploited.

Phragmites reeds are harvested mainly for household use.  The amount of Phragmites reeds harvested is also small relative to its abundant supply in the wetland, and levels of sustainable harvesting could be greatly increased.  The market potential for these reeds is, however, as yet unknown.

Streams within the wetland are currently the most popular source of water for bathing/laundry (50% of respondents).  Although boreholes with standpipes are preferred as sources of water for drinking and cooking (owing to the much lower cholera risk) (60% of respondents) 24% of the respondents still depend on wetlands for drinking and cooking water.  These are generally households which are far from standpipes.=

Less than 50% of the households interviewed kept livestock, and overall livestock do not contribute greatly to the local economy.  All households, with livestock using the wetland do so throughout the year but predominantly in winter & early spring, especially in dry years.  Approximately 45% of the area of the wetland is used regularly for grazing.  Livestock using the wetland consists almost entirely of cattle.

Several medicinal plants are used from the wetland, the two most frequently used wetland plants being Ranunculus multifidus (uxhaphozi) which is extremely abundant in the wetland and Gunnera perpensa (uklenya, uxobo) which is very rare in the wetland, possibly due to over-harvesting.

Tourists visit very infrequently (less than monthly) but when they do visit they often join major community events (e.g. craft days and weddings).  Thus, many people have some sense of involvement with tourists even though they are not benefiting financially.

Cultural uses of the wetland include cleansing after burials, bathing when young women come of age and religious baptisms, all taking place in streams and pools within the wetland.

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Organizations influencing the use of the wetland

A great many organizations influence the use of the wetland.

  • The Tribal Authority, comprising the chief (inkosi) of the ward and the headmen (indunas) of each sub-ward remain the most important organization controlling the allocation of land.  Even so, they have little influence over much of the cultivation of small (<0.005 ha) individual plots in the wetland.
  • The community gardens, which serve to concentrate wetland cultivation to some extent in the less sensitive portions of the wetland.   Individual members collaborate in excluding cattle using a common boundary fence and collectively access seedlings and expertise.
  • The Department of Agriculture have a long history of involvement in the area.  Extension staff have been active from at least the 1970s.  They assisted in establishing and supporting community gardens and together with the South African Sugar Extension Services and Entumeni Mill Cane Committee, provide technical support to the many small-scale sugar growers in the area.  However, over the last 10 years there has been a high turnover of agriculture extension staff at Mbongolwane and over the last year no replacement has been found when the extension worker was transferred.
  • Thubaleth’ elihle Craft Group, whose membership is drawn widely from households surrounding the wetland.  This group has over the last two years, significantly increased the income generated by local crafters from the production of crafts using ikhwane.
  • The main contribution of the University of Natal and NGOs, including Farmer Support Group and the Institute of Natural Resources has been in: (1) gathering and synthesising management-related information (biophysical and social); (2) facilitating the networking of stakeholder organizations; (3) providing advice; and (4) directly raising awareness.  The level of input from NGOs, particularly the Farmer Support Group, increased considerably when a LandCare project was initiated in 2000.  The project has the following objectives:
  • building local institutions and management capacity
  • supporting well planned and effectively controlled use of the wetland
  • increased income generation in an ecologically sustainable manner.
  • Previous draining of some parts of the wetland for vegetable cultivation left parts of the wetland riddled with donga erosion due to the concentration of water flow in certain parts of the wetland. (Aerial photographs on archive bear witness to significant landscape changes from 1937 to 1991 such as erosion channels and head-cuts, land cultivation density of vegetation, bare soil, visibility of water and infrastructure.) The Working for Wetlands Programme together with the Mondi Wetlands Project identified two large head-cuts in the Mbongolwane wetland: one in the wetland at the site called Amatigulu and the second on a stream that enters the wetland called Uvova. From 2002/3 they constructed weirs to reduce the concentration of water flow and therefore stop further degradation and erosion of the wetland, and through the Expanded Public Works Programme created green jobs and provided skills development for about 40 community members.

The majority of households near the wetland consider there to be little control over the utilization of the wetland’s resources, although the level of control varies according the sub-ward.

While gully erosion is most commonly cited by local people as a problem in the wetland, they did not include controlling erosion in their suggestions for future actions.  Instead, suggestions are focussed on directly meeting basic needs, notably increasing food production in the wetland.  Local people continue to see service providers as the “drivers” in addressing environmental issues such as gully erosion.

The main conflict surrounding use of the wetland’s resources reported by respondents relates to damage of crops by cattle. Even this was only reported by 24% of the respondents, owing to the fact that cattle are generally well controlled with ropes or herding.  Considerable conflict does however, exist surrounding general development in the wetland.  This includes conflict between political parties, between the Traditional Authority and newer municipal structures and between sub-wards over the equitable distribution of resources. 

Presently there is no structure in place to effectively and equitably allocate water in the catchment and to deal with conflicts over water. Currently it appears that land-use activities in the wetland are not having any major negative effects for downstream users, but this requires further investigation.

This summary was taken from a study done by DC Kotze, B Memela, N Fuzani and M Thobela which examines the occurrence and extent of different types of use made of the Mbongolwane wetland and the contribution of this utilization to the livelihoods of local people.  It is based on a questionnaire survey conducted during July and August 2002, for 50 households within 1.5 km of the wetland, a transect walk in August 2002, interviews with focus groups and key informants and the results of previous investigations.  The study forms part of an International Water Management Institute case-study based investigation of the use of wetlands in four different southern African countries.


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