Water supply and management is one of the key challenges facing most African smallholders. It’s a challenge made all the more testing by the impact of climate variability.
But it’s a challenge that can yield a healthy dividend, as has been witnessed with wetland management efforts in Malawi and Zambia that have resulted in crop yields increasing by between 30-60%, as a direct result of work that local village committees have carried out in collaboration with Self Help Africa.
What happens when you do have water in the form of dambos? ‘Dambo’ is a local word used for defining seasonally waterlogged, predominantly grass-covered, depressions bordering headwater drainage lines in central, southern and eastern Africa.
These wetlands provide a range of ecosystem services. They’re attractive because the availability of water can ensure several harvests in a year.
However with growing pressure on land and without careful management, the dambos can easily degrade and eventually become drylands.
In Malawi and Zambia, Self Help Africa has worked closely with farming communities living near to, and benefitting from seasonal wetlands.
Self Help Africa believes that preserving these seasonal wetlands in pristine conditions is not feasible given the overriding need for poverty reduction. Careful management based on long-term self interest is the best way forward.
Together with village-based natural resource management committees, new bye-laws were introduced for wetland use. Amongst the measures were new rules to ensure livestock were always supervised in the wetland. A five-metre buffer zone, from the centre of the wetland, was introduced in which no cultivation was allowed. This aimed to preserve the natural storage of water on the land. A ban was also placed on removing indigenous trees from the wetland.
The results over recent years have been truly impressive. Yields have risen between 30 to 60%, depending on the crop. Increased income and savings have grown to up to US$200 a year. Children have become less prone to illnesses, due to improved nutrition. More children were sent to school.
Three years after Self Help Africa’s direct involvement, the village committees are still overseeing the new rules. The committees have proven socially sustainable solutions to natural resource management problems. In this way, wetlands continue to deliver sustainable and profitable futures for the small holders and their families.