Brouwer 2009 – Isolated wetlands in the Sahel

Isolated wetlands are among the most seasonal of ecosystems in semi-arid Africa. Their role is important but varying throughout the year for a number of different user groups. They are links in a number of different seasonal chains. But these wetlands are also under threat from global change, and thus the chains that they form part of are under threat. Participative integrated natural resource management (PINReM) is urgently needed at these wetlands. Wetlands are areas where water and nutrients are concentrated. They are therefore areas of high production potential and low production risk, especially in semi-arid regions. Farmers use isolated wetlands especially immediately after the end of the rainy season, to grow crops on water left in the soil as the water recedes, or for irrigated horticulture. If the rainy season crop of millet in the surrounding drylands has been poor, use of wetlands for dry season cropping may increase by 50%. Pastoralist use of wetlands is very location dependent. Once the rains have ended and surface water has dried up, the wetlands are used as a source of water for their livestock. This allows the livestock to graze the surrounding dryland fields, fallow areas and grasslands. Once the grazing is finished the livestock move further south, in some cases to wetlands that also provide dry season fodder. But if dry season cropping blocks their access to a wetland, the surrounding areas cannot be grazed either. And if there is no dry season grazing at wetlands further south, the wet season grazing in the north can also not be used. Fishermen utilise wetlands as long as they contain water. Semi-permanent wetlands may be restocked with fish at the start of the rainy season, because only lungfish can survive a dry spell. But in case of hunger during the dry season only these lungfish can be dug up, like water-lily tubers, to serve as famine food. Collectors of natural products work according to the seasons as well, collecting e.g. water-lily fruit and other plants for food or medicine, wood for construction or cooking, clay for bricks and pottery, etc. Isolated wetlands in Niger also provide habitat for up to 1.2 million migratory water-birds from elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, from North Africa, and from almost all countries in Europe and West Asia, from Portugal and the UK to Siberia. In Niger alone there are more than 1,000 isolated wetlands of some size (10-2000 ha). Some of these have only been formed 35 years ago. Quantitative information is presented on the various forms of utilisation of these wetlands and their monetary value, which on a per hectare basis far exceeds that of the surrounding drylands. Global change is increasing the pressure on these wetlands, through population increases, climate change and migration. Participative integrated natural resource management (PINReM) must be introduced as soon as possible, or all stakeholders will end up the poorer, and hungrier.

File: Brouwer 2009 - Isolated wetlands in the Sahel.pdf