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Mondi Wetlands Programme – A Brief History

(Click here to download a PDF presentation on the Mondi Wetlands Programme, PDF 1.70MB)
 
Over the past 15 years, the Mondi Wetlands Programme (MWP) has moved wetland conservation from being a side issue to centre stage. This has irreversibly changed the way government, communities (in the areas the Programme operates), as well as the forestry and sugar industries manage their wetlands.
 
Examples of some of the Programme’s more quantitative achievements include: Playing a major role in catalysing Working for Wetlands, a R80 million a year government led partnership rehabilitating degraded wetlands while alleviating poverty, securing water resources and maintaining biodiversity; developing the capacity of over 2 500 people from 60 organisations in wetland rehabilitation and management; pioneering community wetland conservation in South Africa; assessing the condition of over 30 000 hectares of wetlands, and catalysing the rehabilitation of most of them; lobbying and succeeding in getting five full time wetland ecologists appointed in five different government departments; and producing massive amounts of publicity raising public awareness about the importance of wetland conservation.
 
The MWP achieves its outcomes for wetland conservation through the development of strategic partnerships and then working together on shared action of common interest. The Programme is a partnership between two conservation NGO’s (WESSA and WWF) together with two corporates (Mazda and Mondi Ltd). Since the MWP is funded by Mondi and the Mazda Wildlife Fund, this enables the MWP to work with whom it wants, free of charge. 
 
On a national scale the partnership strategy has been a means of maximising the impact of a relatively small-scale initiative, and to institutionalise its benefits with government, poor rural communities, and the private sector in the hope of sustaining it. Few conservation projects work in this catalytic manner forming strategic partnerships with other organisations to spread the workload. Most try to do the work on their own.
On a local scale, Programme staff have been credited with working out solutions to local problems with government agricultural and environmental extension workers and officials, ensuring that tribal authorities or commercial farmers are able to manage their wetlands sustainably.
 
Unlike most conservation projects, the MWP strategically aligned wetlands with water management and the new Water Act, and successfully demonstrated links between wetlands and people. It promoted wetlands as being important for managing South Africa’s vital water resources, not just biodiversity, which in a dry country like South Africa captured the attention of influential decision makers such as landowners, politicians and captains of industry.
 
The full name, location and main organisations involved in the Programme initiation and management.
The Mondi Wetlands Programme (MWP) has two staff based at its main office in Centurion, Pretoria, and a further 3 staff at an office in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal. Initiated in 1991, by the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA (WESSA) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Programme is funded by two corporate sponsors who are also partners of MWP.  These sponsors are the Mazda Wildlife Fund and Mondi Ltd. Since the MWP is funded by these corporates, the MWP can work with whom it wants, free of charge.  The Programme is jointly managed by a steering committee made up of all the sponsors, each with equal influence.
 

What are the reasons for the establishment of the Programme?

Water is the very essence of life on earth, and South Africa’s most precious natural resource. At our present rate of water production and consumption, South Africa will simply not have sufficient freshwater supplies to meet the rising demand by 2025. Wetlands play a crucial role in managing, at no cost, what little water we receive. Wetlands are therefore of a national importance for the functions they perform of water purification, storage, recharging of underground aquifers and streamflow regulation.  They are of a further national importance for their control of erosion, flood attenuation and biodiversity value.
 
It is estimated that development and poor land management have already destroyed over 50% of our freshwater wetlands. The continued destruction of our wetlands will result in the disappearance of these priceless wetland functions and values. This will simply result in South Africa having less pure water, less reliable water supplies, increased flooding, lower agricultural productivity, and more endangered species. For this reason WESSA and WWF decided in 1991 to initiate a Programme to catalyse the rehabilitation of degraded wetlands and the wise use and conservation of wetland resources.
 

What are its key objectives, and which staff do what?

The Programme is striving towards its goal of bringing about social change that encourages wetland users and owners to manage their wetland resources in a more environmentally relevant manner. The Programme employs 5 people: David Lindley, who is the Programme manager, Sharon Wilson the general and financial administrator, and 2 field staff Damian Walters, and Vaughan Koopman, and one education staff member, Michelle van der Merwe. All Programme staff strive towards the Programme’s goal through the achievement of 7 objectives: 
  1. Improved wise use of communal wetlands in rural tribal areas through raised awareness, increased capacity and competence, establishment of wetland governance structures, and implementation of better management practices.
  2. Improved environmental management performance of growers in the plantation forestry and sugar industries, through the adoption of better management practices reducing their impact on wetland and estuarine ecosystems.
  3. Integration of the wise use of wetlands into government’s catchment management planning and implementation of water resource management.
  4. Wetland rehabilitation catalysed and government efforts through the Working for Wetlands Programme are effective and sustainable.
  5. Raised awareness and increased capacity and competence amongst natural resource managers, environmental impact assessment practitioners, regulators and policy makers resulting in improved management of South Africa’s wetlands.
  6. Key wetland management tools and resources developed and used by wetland practitioners, improving the effectiveness of wetland conservation.
  7. Increased public awareness of wetlands through the generation of publicity on wetland importance, topical wetland issues, their rehabilitation, sustainable utilization and management.

How far has the Programme progressed in achieving these objectives?

Over the past 15 years, the MWP has moved wetland conservation from being a side issue to centre stage. The Programme has succeeded in many areas of its work, although it still will need another 5 years before ensuring that it’s government, community, and industry partners have meaningfully institutionalized wetland management into their operations.

More in depth “gee whiz” figures have been gathered and are available on request. Examples of these include:
However these quantitative evaluations of success are of limited value, and therefore it is recommended that the MWP’s second external formative evaluation report (June 2009) be read to determine an independent review of what meaningful qualitative results the Programme has achieved. 
 

What were the pressing and/or significant challenges which gave rise to the Programme?

Prior to the early 1990’s, most of the public, government services and landowners had no idea what wetlands were, or why they were so important. The national Department of Agriculture actively promoted the draining of wetlands for crops. Most nature conservation officials knew little about wetlands. No tertiary training institutions taught any courses on wetland management, and few conservationists advocated the wise use of wetlands, only their preservation. To top it all there were no full time people in the entire country dedicated to working with landowners, and promoting the importance of managing their wetlands properly. This was strange when one considers that most of all the wetlands in South Africa are on private land. Such was the lack of awareness on wetland importance.
 
This ignorance about wetlands, resulted in approximately 50% of South Africa’s wetlands being destroyed through poor land management. Urban impacts included: the draining and filling in of wetlands for housing and industrial buildings; the canalization of rivers; and water pollution. Unsustainable agricultural practices that had an even bigger impact included: the draining of wetlands for cropping; gully erosion in wetlands resulting from overgrazing; excessive cattle trampling or incorrect burning practices; damming of wetlands; over-extraction of water for irrigation; agri-chemical pollution of water flowing into the wetland; and sedimentation and erosion from poorly built roads.  Many of these impacts occurred because the agricultural industry and urban developers were often blissfully unaware of the importance of wetlands, especially for water management.
 

How is the Programme tackling these challenges?

In order for the Programme to turn matters around, the MWP has had to concentrate its work not just on the physical destruction and rehabilitation of wetlands, but also on the root cause of it. This included a lack of awareness, capacity, competence, knowledge, responsibility and the political will to do something about it.
MWP works with three focus groups:
  1. Government (national and provincial Departments of Environmental Affairs, Water Affairs, and Agriculture).
  2. Historically disadvantaged rural communities (in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga Provinces)
  3. Industry (plantation forestry and sugar).

It has four strategies for engagement with these focus groups:

  1. Communications: creates awareness about wetlands to make people aware of the crucial importance of wetlands through gaining publicity in the mass media and hundreds of staff presentations.
  2. Lobbying:  persuades key dedecision makers to realise the importance of wetlands, as well as influencing wetland related government policy and legislation that is being developed or under review.
  3. Education: trains and develops the capacity of key target audiences to get an understanding of the dynamics of wetlands, effective rehabilitation of those degraded, sustainable wetland utilization and management. This audience includes: students at tertiary education institutions; implementers of wetland rehabilitation; agricultural and conservation extension staff in government, commercial agriculture, and emerging farmers; as well as the forestry and sugar industries.
  4. Fieldwork: rehabilitates degraded wetlands and demonstrates the wise use of a wetlands natural resources. Once capacity has been developed we support and guide extension staff, so that they can effectively promote the sustainable utilization of wetlands to wetland owners/managers.

Since the MWP is funded by Mondi Ltd and the Mazda Wildlife Fund, this enables the MWP to work with these focus groups, free of charge. 
 

What communities, groups or individuals are the focus of the Programme?

The Mondi Wetlands Programme works with historically disadvantaged rural communities, commercial farmers, government agricultural and conservation extension services, and key government and sugar/plantation forestry industry decision makers.
 

What partners have been the main contributors to the Programme?

The Programme itself is a partnership between two NGO’s (WESSA and WWF-South Africa), together with two corporates (Mazda and Mondi) although the partners have established a distinct identity for the MWP.
Since it has to work nationally with a limited number of staff and finances, the MWP has come up with a clever plan to maximise its outreach – it forges mutually beneficial partnerships with key wetland players around the country, by working together on shared action of common interest.
 
On a national scale the partnership strategy has been a means of maximising the impact of a relatively small-scale initiative, and to institutionalise its benefits with government, communities, and the private sector in the hope of sustaining it. On a local scale Programme staff have been credited with an excellent team approach, e.g. working out solutions to local problems with government agricultural and environmental extension workers and officials, ensuring that farmers or tribal authorities are able to manage their wetlands sustainably.
 
The Programme works with a number of partners:

What are the roles and functions of each partner?

Does the Programme help to overcome poverty and underdevelopment?

Initiated in December 2000, the Programme’s community wetland management programme, seeks to develop the capacity of poor rural communities and their supporting government agriculture and environmental affairs extension services to manage communally owned wetlands sustainably. These communities depend on wetlands as a source of potable water, wetland plants for weaving and construction, fish, and its agricultural potential for subsistence farming. Through assisting these communities to manage their wetlands sustainably for these multiple resource uses, the Programme is making a positive contribution to alleviating poverty, and promoting the sustainable development of these wetlands.

The Mondi Wetlands Programme played a significant role in catalysing Working for Wetlands, and is a founding partner helping in managing and assisting the government funded and led programme with training, advice and guidance on technical, ecological, planning and management issues. Working for Wetlands has become one of the governments Expanded Public Works programmes, aimed at alleviating poverty and empowering people. It employs previously unemployed people who are given temporary employment, life and job skills, a chance to raise their self-esteem, and are such provided with an opportunity to escape the poverty whirlpool.
 
Since wetlands manage water, and they are treasure troves of biodiversity, the rehabilitation of degraded wetlands by Working for Wetlands has resulted in the securing of vital water resources, and maintenance of biodiversity, and helped alleviate poverty. In this way Working for Wetlands has created multiple benefits for the natural, social and economic environments. Since its start in the 2000/2001 financial year, the government has spent R160-million. In 2008 it employed approximately 1 600 people to rehabilitate approximately 95 wetlands, on an annual budget of R80 million (US$10 million). Through Working for Wetlands the Programme has therefore been able to play a significant role in helping to overcome poverty through wetland rehabilitation. 
 

How many people are affected by the Programme?

Since 1991, literally thousands of people have been trained for free by the Programme in wetland management, and been employed by Working for Wetlands to rehabilitate degraded wetlands. Many more who have been positively affected include: landowners who have had their wetlands rehabilitated; poor rural communities who live in focus areas of the Programme; government departments of Water affairs, Environmental Affairs, and Agriculture and their extension services; as well as the sugar and forestry industries. Not to mention those members of the public who have been positively affected by the Programmes mass awareness and publicity campaigns, and got involved independently in wetland conservation in the areas they live in.
 

Has the Programme helped to improve human capacity?

Yes, and this should be adequately visible from the above text. In addition the Programme has worked hard at developing the capacity of its own staff, to the point where they are now leaders in the wetland field of expertise. The Programme is often invited, with all expenses paid, to share its experiences with other freshwater conservationists around the globe, from Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, to Japan, Brazil, India, Europe, Australia and Mexico.

 

What innovative or creative elements does the Programme have in comparison to similar conservation efforts?

Unlike most conservation projects, the MWP strategically aligned wetlands with water management and the new Water Act, and successfully demonstrated links between wetlands and people.  It sold wetlands as being important for managing South Africa’s vital water resources, which in a dry country like South Africa captured the attention of influential decision makers such as landowners, politicians and captains of industry. Wetlands manage water to which a human life (votes) and economic price can be attributed. Most other conservation projects align their work to biodiversity, which most business and political decision makers do not understand or have empathy with.
 
Few conservation projects act as catalysts, forming strategic partnerships with other organisations to spread the work load. Most try to do the work on their own. Many other conservation projects forget about the important role of lobbying and then supporting implementation of government policy. Much of the MWP’s achievement is associated with its focus on policy development and the institutionalisation of wetlands.
 

To what extent have initiative, creativity and new inputs, policies and procedures been developed?

The Mondi Wetlands Programme has given birth to wetland conservation outside protected areas in South Africa. This is an irreversible process that has changed and institutionalized the way government, communities (in the areas the Programme operates), as well as the forestry and sugar industries manage their wetlands.
 

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