The role of isolated wetlands in food security and their interactions with surrounding drylands, especially in semi-arid regions
I write you further to my previous message regarding the V0 draft of the above-mentioned report. The second subject that I feel should be included in your report is the role of isolated wetlands. Not the large floodplains of major rivers that are often already the subject of large irrigation developments, but the small, semi-permanent to permanent wetlands in the now mostly dry drainage systems that were formed under wetter circumstances thousands of years ago. In French they are called ‘mares’. There are more than 1.000 such wetlands in Niger alone, 250 in south-eastern Mauritania, and many thousands more in the rest of the Sahel. Individually only a minority is of international importance. Collectively these isolated wetlands are of such importance that millions of people’s lives would collapse were those ecosystems to collapse.
As you know, wetlands are places where water and nutrients are concentrated. This causes their production potential to be high and their production risks to be relatively low. The contrast with surrounding uplands is especially great in semi-arid parts of the world. As a result wetlands in e.g. the Sahel are in great demand by farmers, but also by pastoralists, fishermen and collectors of natural products. In addition, they are of irreplaceable value for the local flora and fauna as well as for migratory birds. (Via bird banding and other migration studies birds that visit Niger for instance have been directly linked to 93 other countries.)
As you know, all these different demands on isolated wetlands cause conflicts, sometimes deadly conflicts. Farmers are on-site all year and this often crowd out the other users. The ‘tragedy of the commons’ principle also causes the farmers to compete with each other, causing the wetlands to become degraded for ALL user groups. Participatory, integrated natural resource management is urgently required for the benefit of ALL stakeholders.
I attach a list of all my publications on wetlands in the Sahel. Many of these are also relevant to other semi-arid regions of the world, and some perhaps also to higher rainfall areas. Feel free to ask for a pdf of any of those publications. I already attach three key ones:
- Brouwer Brighton 2009, that includes data on the economic value of Niger’s isolated wetlands, as well as a detailed discussion on the benefits of those wetlands to the surrounding uplands and vice-versa.
- Brouwer 2010, on the role of wetlands in climate change resilience; included is a table listing the changes observed at some ten isolated wetlands in Niger over a twelve year period
- Brouwer et al. 2014, on 80 years of changes at Lake Tabalak near Tahoua, Niger. Sobering reading, I find myself.
Lastly, I point out to you, perhaps superfluously, the existence within the FAO of the RESSOURCE project on various aspects of Sahelian wetlands. Its coordinator, Bruno Portier, started at head office in Rome this past week. I think it may be very beneficial to all concerned if you get in touch with each other. [email protected]
Do feel free to contact me for further input.
Wishing you once again all the best for this important report,
Kind regards, Joost