Designing wetlands restoration programmes that enable riparian communities to improve their livelihoods and reduce impacts of climate change
This pilot will be aimed at agro-pastoralists in riparian wetland ecosystems who are facing climate change, habitat loss, hydrological alterations, and declining water quality.
Our approach is to involve them in creating a representative site for a restored wetland and demonstrate its social, economic and environmental potential to the community. Our framework consists of three crucial and iterative steps of wetlands protection and restoration namely: education and outreach; restoring and protecting; monitoring and assessing.
Why are wetlands important?
Wetlands are the link between land and water. They are transition zones where the flow of water, the cycling of nutrients, and the energy of the sun meet to produce a unique ecosystem. This is characterized by hydrology, soils, and vegetation, making these areas very important features of the environment. They cover 6% of the world’s land surface and contain about 12% of the global carbon pool. They play an important role in the global carbon cycle by regenerating carbon back into depleted soils and reducing its release into the atmosphere.
These ecosystems are poorly understood and scarcely monitored. There has been increasing concern over the continuing degradation of the world's wetlands, particularly rivers and lakes. By 2025, due to this continued degradation, it is predicted that most water-stressed countries will be in Africa and Asia.
Causes and effects of wetland degradation
Wetlands are undergoing rapid degradation and depletion and are considered one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth. It was found that approximately 50% of the world's wetlands have been lost in the past century alone. The primary indirect drivers of this degradation and loss are identified in figure 1.
Figure 1: Causes and effects of wetland degradation as adapted from the National State of Wetland Ecosystems Report (2005)
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Estimates put the total number of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists worldwide at 120 million, of which 50 million reside in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Worldwide, pastoralists constitute one of the poorest population sub-groups. Among African pastoralists, the incidence of extreme poverty ranges from 25 to 55 percent, and in the Horn of Africa, it is 41 percent. Kenya has over 13 million pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.
Kenya has been experiencing changes in its weather patterns affecting temperatures, wind and rainfall patterns particularly shifts in the timing and length of rainy seasons. This has led to more droughts and floods. These changes have increased the vulnerability of agro-pastoralists and pastoralists households whose livelihoods come primarily from livestock like goats and cows. Rainfall changes have resulted in floods and increasingly scarce, scattered and unpredictable pastures. Animals have become weaker because they have to walk further in search of food. Livestock have also died or become ill due to heat stress or colder seasons.
Kenya' s wetlands cover about 3-6 percent of the land surface, roughly 14,000Km2 ( Kech A et al.2012). They depend largely on the amount of rainfall and to some extent on the landform in which they are structured. These wetlands provide many ecological and socio-economic goods and services (US EPA 2004). Despite their valuable functions, wetlands are often regarded as "wastelands" and are continually being degraded through conversion into agricultural uses, settlement and industrial development.I.
There is a serious need to build the resilience of these landscapes. Little has been done to manage wetlands despite their contribution to reducing impacts of climate change, their role in sustaining biodiversity and their contribution to successful agro-pastoralists livelihoods, amongst other groups.
Framework Choice, Practices and Development Roadmap
Wetland restoration can be either passive or active restoration practices and should be accompanied by protection practices. These practices require the institutionalization and long-term approach to wetlands restoration.
Figure 2: Restorations and protection practices
In order to realize the indicated objectives, this proposal seeks to create a wetlands restoration representative site that can be the benchmark of how other riverine wetlands should be managed.
We will perform the following critical actions in order to restore the identified wetland using the following iterative phases:
- Monitoring and Assessment: Collect data and come up with methods of evaluating the actual value of the wetland to the community. This will enable the community to appreciate and therefore seek to conserve and come up with measures aimed at maintaining the benefits derived from the wetland.
- Restoration and Protection: Restoration activities seek to manipulate a former or degraded wetland's physical, chemical, or biological characteristics to return its natural functions whereas protection activities are those that remove a threat or prevent the decline of wetland conditions.
- Education and Outreach: We need to educate the public and private sectors to redefine the new way of protection, management, and restoration of wetlands. It’s imperative to understand the nature of climatic and ecological changes that are likely to occur regionally in order to properly design wetland management and restoration plans. All solutions should seek to involve the stakeholders and using the existing social systems for the strategies to work. The community should be at the forefront in devising mechanisms that will work and be willing to put in human capital to further the project.
Breakdown of the three phases into steps used to design the restoration plans.
Figure 3: Road map for the implementation of wetland protection and restoration practices
Monitoring and Assessment phase :
- Assessment of wetland risk
This step is about ensuring that there are comprehensive insights about the social, economic and ecological aspects of the risks of the degraded wetland and what is at stake if it continues unchecked.
The needs and capabilities assessment questionnaire is a simple tool that helps organize known programs and resources that can be potentially applied for protection and restoration, as well as identify potential resources that may not have considered.
Through sharing and discussing the information collected, partners working on this project together arrive at the same basic understanding of the current situation within their wetland.
- Systems mapping
This is a crucial step that requires the participation of all stakeholders in the wetlands ecosystems. It is important to bring everyone to a common understanding of the significance of their actions in contributing to the current degraded state of the wetland. Riparian wetlands suffer from issues such as livestock overgrazing that cause habitat destruction; water abstraction from agricultural practices that leads to changes in hydrological regimes; reduction of the water table and increased salination; human settlement and encroaching results in loss of species breeding ground, biodiversity and groundwater recharge.
Restoration & Protection Phase
- Align on the winning point for all- environmental, social, economic
Ultimately, the future hinges upon the efficacy of managing the limited freshwater resources for meeting both human and environmental needs, coupled with effective adaptive responses to the added threats from climate change (Gopal and Chauhan 2006).
Prioritizing efforts that are aimed at increasing carbon sequestration, maintaining the biodiversity of the wetlands and ensuring livelihoods are met by riparian communities will involve multiple stakeholder discussions to gain alignment. It is important to emphasize the long term risk of not restoring degraded wetlands vs the shorter term changes that may include forgoing certain opportunities. No two wetland areas are identical and we need to take into consideration how the different wetlands require different restoration and protection practices depending on how the wetland community has over the years interacted with it.
One specific management activity for riparian wetlands that were previously drained is rewetted to raise the water table level to pre-drainage conditions. Active approaches to rewetting include the removal of drain tiles, filling or blocking of drainage ditches, breaching levees, removal of river dams and spillways, and contouring the land surface to mimic natural topography. Passive approaches include the elimination of water control structures and allowing natural flood events (Aber et al., 2012). Rewetting is common in the conversion of agricultural lands back to wetlands, and may occur when active regulation of river hydrology is discontinued.
A related management activity that occurs on mineral soils is wetland creation, where lands are artificially inundated for the purposes of supporting a wetland ecosystem (Aber et al., 2012). Wetlands are created for various purposes such as water-quality enhancement (treatment of wastewater, stormwater, acid mine drainage, agricultural runoff; Hammer, 1989), flood minimization, and habitat replacement (Mitsch et al., 1998). Wetlands may be created unintentionally when regulation of river flows (i.e. installation of large dams) results in periodic flooding (Chen et al., 2009; Yang et al., 2012).
Wetland creation and rewetting of drained soils are common activities in response to significant wetland loss and degradation on a global scale (Mitsch et al., 1998). There is a great potential for increasing carbon storage by the rewetting of wetlands (Euliss et al., 2006
- Integrating tradition and science
Natives have a deeper understanding of the effects of periodic oscillations on the riparian habitats and would have a better knowledge of the seasonal restoration practices for example by native plants.
In order to ensure the values of local people don't go unrecognized in decision-making processes while international/ larger organizations and commercial interests have much more influence. (IWMI, 2014). This can be addressed through the mobilizing of local communities into different stakeholder "wetland supporting groups". The key is to drive to an integrated, adaptable approach: one that considers not just the current uses of a wetland, but how these are likely to change over time. There will be a great need to have scientific monitoring, designing, and implementation of wetland restoration and management projects. Working with both local and science-based approaches can make the difference between success and failure of the restoration projects
Education and Outreach Phase
- Promote community self-management & capacity building
Each community is unique, and each has different vulnerabilities and strengths which contribute to its adaptive capacity. For the restoration to be successful, the community has to make it self-perpetuating where everybody gives, and everybody gains.
An important factor is the self-regulation of the local community members in regards to the different uses of wetland areas. Including the participation of women and providing them with adequate training on good agricultural practices that don't deplete the wetlands can help lead their families out of perennial food insecurity.
Ensuring the co-operation of involved individuals who interchange responsibilities in monitoring and protecting the wetland is key to the continued management and important for wetland conservation, preservation, and restoration practices.
- Training of trainers (TOTs)
Incentivization and recognition of individuals practising the restoration and protection practices and enrolling them in the training or community groups will help to make the spread of knowledge faster. Youth can also be recruited to be volunteers and personnel who work as providing the right information on how to implement the agreed practices for restoring the wetlands and will work closely with agro-pastoralists.
Monitoring and Assessment Phase
- Measurement & Evaluation
Monitoring is an essential element of ecosystem management. It may be used as a starting point of the process as part of the risk assessment. Collecting data at regular intervals will provide information necessary to monitor the progress of the site relative to the restoration goal.
Ideally, it is in intended to detect long-term ecosystem change, provide insights to the potential ecological consequences and help decision makers determine how and which management practices should be implemented. It helps to detect desirable and undesirable changes over time.
Data and results should be communicated to all stakeholder and can be used to influence policy and behavioral changes.
In addressing this challenge there are many nature-based solutions that serve to be measurable, controllable and sustainable. Biological monitoring of water quality can be done through monitoring the responses of the environments species, or the responses of the biota to these changes in the environment (Chapman, 1996) and could possibly be the most participatory approach to involving local communities living in these wetland areas in Less Developed Countries (LDC’s).
Bioremediation is able to enhance the quality of contaminated surface water and groundwater, and the use of living organisms for the recovery/cleaning up of a contaminated medium such as soil, sediment, air or water.
Who will take these actions?
Agro-pastoralists, tend to be the most impoverished of the riparian communities also the main beneficiaries of a restored watershed. Conflicts often happen with the different tribal groups over resources such as water and pasture for their animals. Wetlands provide water growing food crops such as rice and cotton which are done primarily by small scale farmers. Often these communities are agro-pastoralists.
Non-governmental Organizations (NGOS)
NGOs and multinational institutions such as IUCN, UNEP, UNESCO, Worldwatch Institute, World Resource Institute, WWF, Ramsar Secretariat, The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International, and Birdlife International, among many others, play a leading role in transferring basic research information to the public and to decision-makers about securing protection for biodiversity hot spots such as wetlands. Their role in conserving and restoring flood plains and wetlands must increase in relation to the fast-growing scientific knowledge about the strategic importance of floodplains to healthy rivers that parallels the accelerating deterioration of remaining systems (Tockner and Stanford 2002). These institutions will need to partner with governments and the riparian communities in developing and adopting restoration practices. Wetlands International is the only global not-for-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wetlands. They are deeply concerned about the loss and deterioration of wetlands such as lakes, marshes, and rivers. Their vision is a world where wetlands are treasured and nurtured for their beauty, the life they support and the resources they provide.
Mining & Building Industry
Illegal sand harvesting, deforestation, and huge development projects are key issues affecting the river wetlands.
National & County Governments
County administrators are responsible for ensuring that their riparian communities share the resources equally by enhancing cooperation and collaboration between upstream and downstream users. Their responsibility includes addressing any conflict’s that may arise in sharing water or pasture resources. They should enable the creation of systems that safeguard and restore the ecosystem. Government involvement is to protect the beneficiaries of wetlands and the livelihoods of the local communities in order to promote wetlands restoration by the riparian communities
Parks and Conservation centers
Research institutions and in particular Kenya Wildlife Services Service and Conservation centers as wildlife life and biodiversity is greatly impacted by the state of riparian ecosystems.
Universities’ and learning centers
Studies on managing wetlands ecosystems and including these in curriculum will increase research in the area. Learning centers can help to build t knowledge gap on methods for increasing carbon sequestration, maintaining the biodiversity of the wetlands and ensuring livelihoods are met by riparian communities.
Where will these actions be taken?
Our initial focus will be on riparian agro-pastoralist communities around the Ewaso Nyiro river in Kenya. The Ewaso Nyiro River flows down from Mount Kenya to water the dry plains that stretch east from the Great Rift Valley. The sparsely populated plains are a haven for wildlife, which rely on the river as a source of water. Public and private wildlife reserves, including Samburu National Reserve and Buffalo Springs National Reserve, are found on the banks of the river. The Ewaso Nyiro river basin that is critical to the survival of pastoral communities and wildlife sanctuaries in northern Kenya is facing myriad threats linked to human activities such as pollution, illegal abstraction and cultivation along the river banks. This community is facing livestock losses, increased food insecurity and spiralling poverty due to the impacts of climate change and the degradation of this wetland.
There are approximately 3.5 million people; pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and small scale farmers living along the river and spanning different counties of Laikipia, Samburu, Narok & Isiolo.
We will design a community-based blueprint of riparian restoration. Our proposal will include marginalized group such as women and youth as critical stakeholders in enabling uptake of innovative strategies that will be part of the wetland restoration plans. We will target 1000 pastoralists including women and youth.
Successful projects will be publicized in order to encourage replication of wetland restoration initiatives in other areas of Kenya and across all low and even high-income countries.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
All types of wetlands are carbon sequestering systems also known as “carbon sinks”. Wetlands have the ability to store excess carbon (via photosynthesis) from the atmosphere – one of the primary components of greenhouse gases and a driver of climate change. Drainage and degradation of wetlands can release significant amounts of this stored carbon back into the atmosphere in the form of methane and reduce the ability of wetlands to sequester additional carbon. Better management practices can help protect this natural store of carbon and enhance the ability of wetlands to sequester it.
Wetlands play an important in combatting some of the causes and effects of climate change. Their continuity is vital to the local communities that depend on them. They help to prevent biodiversity loss, hydrological alterations and declining water quality while combating the effects of climate change.
The Role of Wetlands and the Carbon Cycle
- Wetlands cover approximately six to nine percent of the earth’s surface and contain about 35 percent of global terrestrial carbon”. Additionally, they have the ability to store greater quantities of carbon because they store dead wood and plant matter in the soil and the water-logged conditions prevent the material from decomposing and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to Ramsar Convention’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP), their primarily recognized function is in the role of “carbon storage and the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions”: This means their survival is of global importance in regards to combating climate change.
- Human activities on wetlands (e.g. drainage, agriculture, forestry, mineral extraction, aquaculture) and their effects may significantly affect the carbon and nitrogen balance and, thus, the greenhouse gas emissions and removals from these lands.
- Wetlands improve water security. Inland wetlands are a natural sponge, absorbing rain, reducing flooding and delaying the onset of droughts by storing excess water.
Drainage of riparian wetlands is a common practice for agro pastoralists in the preparation of land for agriculture and grazing. Drainage leads to lower water levels, which increases both decomposition and vegetation productivity leading to reduced wetand carbon stocks over time.One of the main consequences of climate change in the riparian wetlands are changes in hydrological patterns, which would occur either as an increase or reduction in rainfall. These impacts are more drastic when combined with other human activities e.g. irrigation systems that lead to water table reduction, forestry, mineral extraction, aquaculture amongst others. Reducing these human impacts on wetlands would represent one of the first steps to minimize the negative effects of climate change in these environments. This in turn affects the agro-pastoralist who faces significant livelihood challenges under these conditions.
What are other key benefits?
Other key benefits our restoration practice will provide
- Provisioning Services- drinking water, food, raw materials, medicinal resources
- Regulating Services- greenhouse gas and climate regulation, disturbance regulation, soil erosion control, water regulation, biological control, water quality and waste processing, soil formation
- Supporting Services- nutrient cycling, biodiversity and habitat, primary productivity, pollination
- Cultural Services- aesthetic, recreation and tourism, scientific and educational, spiritual and religious (Kocian, Traughber, & Batker, 2012; MEA, 2005
Wetlands and the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs)
Restoration of wetlands can help in the pursuit of the SDG’s with the following ones, in particular, being addressed:
SDG 2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
SDG 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
SDG 6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
SDG 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
SDG 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
SDG 15 – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt biodiversity loss; and potentially
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
* Excluding cost of physical restoration and protection materials
Challenges in executing the project
- It is very important to know the actual value of a wetland because this is the only way people can appreciate and aim to conserve it. Lack of information and documentation of assessing the values of the wetlands is a challenge and time will be spent monitoring, documenting and speaking to the local communities.
- In most cases the survival needs of the population conflict with the long-term conservation and management of wetlands. These communities also lack knowledge on various wetland conservation methods and on the alternative use of the wetlands in a non-consumptive manner such as ecotourism and recreation. Very few wetlands communities have access to education, clean water, health services, and electricity. Therefore, environmental concerns would not be in their worldview as priority problems to be solved.
- Drainage and reclamation of wetlands for agricultural development, human settlement, and industrial development is a big threat to wetland conservation and management.
- Additional unforeseen costs as a result of the holistic nature of helping the communities who lack the basic amenities.
- All restoration projects require planning, implementation, monitoring, and management. At the implementation stage of the intervention, it may be necessary to have a team with expertise in ecology, hydrology, engineering, and environmental planning. Efforts will be made in getting local experts and the community involved giving the project local ownership, which is important for restoration success.
- Restoration is a complex process that requires expertise, resources, time and commitment from many different stakeholders to work together collaboratively with the same goal driving them.
There are no global solutions to wetland management. Each one varies in terms of its climate, ecosystem, pressures, and users. Restoring degraded wetlands require time and patience. While man-made interferences can be reduced or stopped they are harder to control.
Pastoralism is estimated to account for about 10 percent of Kenya's gross domestic product (GDP) and 95 percent of family income among pastoralists, according to estimates from Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture ( https://reliefweb.int/report/kenya/changing-face-pastoralism)
Pastoralism directly supports an estimated 20 million people in eastern Africa. In Ethiopia, for example, it provides 80 percent of the country's annual milk supply, and 90 percent of the meat consumed in East Africa.
Below are the project timelines
Short term impact
- Acquisition of knowledge and skills by 1,000 agro-pastoralists about wetland restoration practices within the first year of the launch.
- Increased biodiversity in wetlands- 2 years from initiation.
- Improvement in the livelihoods of agro-pastoralist communities (fewer conflicts and diversification of livelihood)
- Restoration of the wetland ecosystem services in the target area after 3 years of launch.
- Acquisition of knowledge and skills by at least 100,000 agro-pastoralists within 10 years
- Enhanced biodiversity on riparian wetlands.
- Mitigation of degradation on at least 4 different wetland sites
- Enhancement of ecosystem services in four riparian ecological zones
- Representative wetland restoration sites across 8 different wetland ecosystems
- Acquisition of knowledge and skills by at least 1 million smallholder farmers and agro-pastoralists
- Enhancement of biodiversity nationally on wetlands
- Increased biodiversity nationally and improvement of national micro-climate.
- Mitigation of degradation nationally on both agricultural farms and landscape.
- Enhancement of ecosystem services nationally.
About the author(s)
Maggie Rarieya has over 18 years of work experience garnered from living and working in Africa, Europe and North America. She is passionate about creating mutually beneficial partnerships between key stakeholder groups for eg business and society; governments and business; non-profit and profit-making companies; institutions and lay people; society and the environment, where both/ multiple parties stand to gain. She believes in a world where sustainability is embedded in all aspects of organisational functions and serves to enhance organizational effectiveness and efficiency. Maggie is currently pursuing a Master's in Sustainability from Harvard Extension School and keen to apply her learning into practice.
Anne Makau, Co-Author and Contributor, is a Sustainability enthusiast currently pursuing a graduate degree in Sustainability at Harvard Extension School. She wants to apply this knowledge to benefit and assist in development projects around climate adaption resiliency and work with corporates to make their businesses more sustainable.
She has over 12 years’ senior level experience in the banking industry in Kenya where she has held several roles.
Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines Project-similarly this proposal is about communities along riparian regions preserving the wetlands and adapting to climate change impacts
Drainage management-this proposal is about the importance of wetlands in drainage management and how they are impacted by climate change, which is similar to our proposal as we highlight the importance of riverine wetlands with similar benefits.
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