The Sub-Regional Representative of FAO, Ms. V. Sekitoleko,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honour and pleasure to welcome you all to this important workshop which is focusing on Expert Consultation on Wetland Classification for Agricultural Development in Eastern and Southern Africa, Welcome to Zimbabwe.
Mr. Chairman, food security is a universal goal and especially a major concern to the whole world and to FAO in particular. It is clearly linked with a sustainable level of food production. The limits to the latter are set both by the availability of land, water resources and by human capacity to increase the productivity of these resources without depleting or degrading the environment.
It is important to note that the potential contribution of wetland resources to food security is vast and very much varied. Mobilizing this potential depends largely on people's ability to understand and wisely use the many interactions (social, physical, hydrological, chemical and biological) which ultimately determine the functions of the wetland.
At country level, there have been many wetland protection and conservation initiatives. These include a series of technical meetings such as the FAO initiated symposium in Zambia (1985), the Wetland Conservation Conference for Southern Africa (1991) and the Conference on Dambo Farming in Zimbabwe (1994). A review of the on-going activities in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, etc. would clearly indicate that wetland mapping, characterization and classification are of high priority.
Mr. Chairman, to understand the great heterogeneity and complexity of inland valley swamps is still a major challenge and a prerequisite to sustainable use of these agro-ecosystems. It was in line with the above-mentioned concerns that FAO decided to establish, in 1990, a Technical Cooperation Network for Wetland Development and Management (WEDEM).
Wetlands are traditionally known by different names in different parts of the world. For instance, some of the names used are vleis, mbugas and dambos in Eastern and Southern Africa. According to different sources, the physical potential of inland valley swamps in sub-Saharan Africa can be conservatively estimated at 135 million hectares. Only 1.3 % of this potential are utilized in a sustainable way. The reasons include: lack of appropriate characterization and classification, lack of appropriate water management and other agro-technologies, health risks and an overall unfavourable socio-economic environment.
In the Eastern and Southern Africa sub-region, national wetland coverage varies between 3 an 10 %. Dambos are an important resource for a stable environment and socio-economic development of people with access to them.
Mr. Chairman, the extent of utilization of vleis or dambos in Zimbabwe for agricultural production has been limited. While statistics are not readily available on the extent of the utilization of this fragile ecosystem, it is estimated that about 20 000 hectares are used for small gardens to grow mainly green maize, vegetables and to a lesser extent some rice in some places. At this stage it is important to note that dambos are considered as a very important resource for biodiversity, fisheries and animal grazing, especially during the dry season. They also provide numerous services such as regulating the hydrological flows, recharging the water table and providing additional recreational opportunities.
Mr. Chairman, in view of their overall social, economic and ecological importance, there is a need for an integrated and holistic approach to conservation and sustainable development of these resources. Since most of our dambos fall within National Parks area, it is an important resource for both wildlife grazing and water supply to domestic animals.
Zimbabwe as a nation has always considered this fragile resource with respect and put in place appropriate legislation (Natural Resources Act Chapter 150), limiting its use for crop production to the fringes of the dambo that are at least 30 meters away from a water body. However, it is recognized that land pressure has led to increased agricultural activities in dambos.
Mr. Chairman, this consultation has come timely to address some of the critical issues related to sustainable utilization of wetlands. I am therefore pleased to note that your deliberations will cover important areas, such as:
Whilst conflicts may arise from the indiscriminate use of shared dambos, I am positively sure that your deliberations will result in valuable guidelines to avoid such degrading use of these vital freshwater sources. I therefore wish to challenge this workshop to formulate strategies which can lead to maximization of sustainable use of wetland in this region.
Mr. Chairman, with these remarks, it is now my singular honour and pleasure to declare this milestone workshop officially open. I wish you all fruitful deliberations.
I thank you.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you in this important gathering which would address one of the most important and controversial issues of African land resources.
As you are aware, the growing population and basic food needs and development aspirations of the small farmers in Africa and particularly in the sub-region has brought tremendous pressure on land and water resources. Un-even distribution and non equitable access to the land, inputs and technologies and the braking down of the traditional land use systems, has resulted in the expansion of agriculture in to more fragile ecosystems such as wetlands and forest areas and the development of non sustainable land use systems.
The inland valleys and dambos, the complex ecosystems which we are focusing on during this consultation, have important ecological and socio-economical functions, attributes and products both from developmental and environmental point of views. They are often the resources base for the food security of small holders particularly in dry seasons as they are important buffer areas for water resources, grazing lands, and some times for fisheries resources. In drought periods these areas are sanctuaries of wild relatives of crops and many plant genetic resources, land races and biological diversity as a whole.
While some of the wetland areas particularly the smaller depressions and Dambos may have some potential for food production and agricultural development, it is important to note however, that these areas are of fragile ecosystems which would need careful understanding, characterization, management and monitoring if agricultural improvements is going to be introduced in these areas.
This is why FAO felt it is necessary to convene this consultation to address some of these crucial issues and prepare the pathway for exchange of information and networking among the countries and experts involved.
From the outset, I would like to emphasize that:
I hope this consultation brings better understanding and facilitate further action in this area and I am confident that with your expertise, hard work and dedication during these four days consultation we can establish a good foundation for improved collaboration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are now gathered to look into the technical issues related the classification of inland valleys. Before going any further into the subject, let me make the following remarks as foreword:
This consultation was planned as a follow-up to a regional workshop held in 1996 in Cotonou, Benin, on sustainable development of inland valleys in Sub-Saharan Africa.The Cotonou workshop concluded that one of the obstacles to inland valley research and development programmes in this sub-region was inter alia the lack of a common characterization and classification scheme. FAO was requested to organize an expert consultation the objectives of which would be:
If I may take you further back, I would add that the Cotonou workshop was organized in the framework of the FAO Technical Cooperation Network on Wetland Development and Management (WEDEM) with the co-sponsorship of IITA, WARDA and IVC. This consultation is organized with the view to revive WEDEM in the sub-region.
Now, what is wetland and what is inland valley?
Defining wetland has become a major legal and economic issue. Among the fifty or more definitions of wetland currently in use, the broadest is the one proposed by the Ramsar Convention. It covers "areas of marshes, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salty, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres".
We must recognize that the group of ecosystems we thus describe as wetlands is rather heterogeneous. It encompasses a wide range of formations such as swamps, marshes, floodplains, peat swamps, mangroves, etc.
For the purpose of this consultation, we need to remain focused and restrict the scope of our target ecosystems to the inland valleys swamps or dambo-like formations. Inland valleys swamps are defined as "the upper sections of river drainage systems, comprising of valley bottoms or minor flood plains, the continuum from their hydromorphic fringes to the uplands". Their soils are submerged or saturated permanently or during a substantial part of the year. Locally, they are known as bas-fonds or marigots in French speaking West and Central Africa, fadama in Nigeria, bolis in Sierra Leone and vleis, mapani, mbugas or dambos in Eastern and Southern Africa. Dambos are defined as "seasonally or permanently wet grassy valleys, depressions, or seepage zones on slopes". If, like R.E.C. Ferreira (1981), we were to emphasize the land-use potential of a dambo, we may redefine it as "an area of land where the water table, either seasonally or permanently, is located in the upper 20 cm of the soil, often reaching the ground surface itself and occasionally rising to 0.5 m above the surface during the rainy season".
In fact, the development of Inland Valleys cannot be isolated from the global land-use policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In view of the great heterogeneity of inland valleys, we need first of all to characterize their ecology (climate, land, water, fauna and flora). We will then be in a position to develop a classification system that will make it possible to compare data from different locations and to extrapolate and transfer research results from one area to another within the same country or from one country to another.
What type of classification are we then aiming at?
The multiple functions performed by the inland valleys call for a multi-purpose classification. This should allow a sustainable balance between the conservation of biological diversity and the hydrological functions on the one hand, and deriving a maximum benefit from agricultural, fishery, forage, forest, wildlife, energy and tourism resources on the other hand. In any case, we must not loose sight of our main objective: food security in a friendly environment.
Bearing the foregoing in mind, during the four technical sessions and the concluding session of this consultation, we will endeavor to:
Thank you for your kind attention.