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February : Celebrating Wetlands in South Africa and their contribution to water resource management

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2 February, 2021

Celebrating Wetlands in South Africa and their contribution to water resource management

Celebrating Wetlands in South Africa and their contribution to water resource management
As we celebrate World Wetlands Day on 02 February, let us reflect on the 2021 theme "Wetlands and Water",
which highlights the contribution of wetlands to the quantity and quality of freshwater on our planet.

Gerard Busse, Marketing Manager Forest Stewardship Council®, South Africa

Water and wetlands are connected in an inseparable co-existence that is vital to life, our wellbeing and the health of our planet.

To gain some perspective on this important water source and the role played by the forestry industry in South Africa, and more specifically by Mondi South Africa (Pty) Ltd, we at Forestry Stewardship Council ®Southern Africa spent some time in conversation with Dr David Lindley, Manager at WWF-Mondi Water Stewardship Partnership and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa.

Read more about the role of WWF and Mondi South Africa (Pty) Ltd in protecting our water source areas below:

Why did WWF identify the need to be involved in a wetland's conservation programme in South Africa?

"The focus on wetlands in South Africa started in 1991 when the WWF drew various stakeholders, including government, industry and other conservation organisations attention to the dire state of our wetlands, which had become endangered ecosystems with more than 50% being destroyed through poor land management.

Forestry companies were brought on board in 1996 as they were identified as a key industry that ran operations in these wetland areas, with Mondi® South Africa playing an important role facilitating this. The key issue was to find a method to create a buffer zone between where edge of the wetland ended in wet periods and where commercial planting could take place. This process is now known as the wetland delineation method.

In your views what are the 3 most significant achievements of the WWF-Mondi Water Stewardship Partnership?

"The first achievement was catalysing a wetland conservation and rehabilitation movement within South Africa by bringing together conservation organisations, industry players and government.

Second achievment was playing an instrumental role in catalysing and supporting the Working for Wetlands Program which started in 2000, a national government led and funded wetland rehabilitation programme, which has invested nearly a billion Rand in wetland rehabilitation, and created ongoing employment for thousands of previously unemployed people tasked with important rehabilitation work.

Thirdly, the partnership of WWF working with the plantation forestry to achieve both these achievements. In 1996, the forestry sector were the first group of land-users to recognize the impact of their activities on wetlands, the importance of sustainably managing them, and being willing to work with conservation bodies like WWF to improve their management. This led to the forestry companies' involvement in collaboratively developing the wetland delineation method and creating the 20 m buffer zone after which trees could be planted, which was a very important milestone.

This also involved these companies removing plantation trees out of the wetlands and buffer zones. Thanks to the forestry sector working together with the conservation sector, this delineation method is now been applied throughout South Africa to all agricultural and urban land uses".

The partnership between Mondi South Africa and WWF has not only been one of the longest running private conservation programs, but has more importantly stimulated an understanding throughout South Africa, on the important role wetlands play and catalysed their better management. The Partnership has now evolved even further and broadened its work into catalysing and supporting catchment based water source management initiatives.

What has been the contribution of the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) in the program, and how does WWF view the value FSC offers programs such as these?

"The FSC's Forest Management Standard's Principles and Criteria, require freshwater conservation management practices to be implemented by landowners and managers.

The FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard for South Africa, includes indicators based on the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard. Forestry Operations need to demonstrate compliance to these indicators, including water resource management practices which are then audited by a certification organisation.

Additionally, the FSC certifies Ecosystem Services within its certified areas over and above the requirements of the National Forest Stewardship Standard for South Africa. The Ecosystem Services claims can include maintaining and/or improving water quality in forests or and the protection or enhancement of watersheds. These claims all contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 - Clean water and sanitation".

What is the wider felt impact of the WWF-Mondi Water Stewardship Partnership for South Africa?

"With South Africa being a water scarce country and forestry and associated processing industries being significant water users in Strategic Water Source Areas, forestry has an important role to play in their protection and sustainable use". The CSIR and Water Research Commission has identified Strategic Water Source Areas as covering only 10% of South Africa's land, but being responsible for generating 50% of our freshwater resources. These areas are therefore vital to the economy of South Africa, which is classified as a water scarce country.

The WWF-Mondi Partnership was a vehicle for entry for WWF to engage with the forestry sector around water resource management. The programme's evolution into a water stewardship programme is a natural transition into engaging with the industry on far reaching water resource challenges, beyond wetlands, as a sector that impacts water resources.

WWF recognises that improving management of Strategic Water Source Areas requires better strategic planning, better implementation of action on the ground and the coordinated action of many different stakeholders. With this understanding, WWF is working with the forestry sector along with other sectors such as agriculture to take collective action to secure strategic water sources areas at a catchment and landscape level.

Can you share WWF's plans for further conservation of wetlands and other Strategic Water Sources Areas in South Africa in 2021?

"In the next five years, a key outcome of WWF SA's work is to facilitate the achievement of water security in 10 of the 26 Strategic Water Source Areas that the CSIR has identified as being priority. Plantation forestry is present in these catchment areas. Work is already underway with Mondi South Africa and other forestry companies in the Umkomazi and Umhlatuze Water Source Areas where their plantations are in the upper catchment areas and their processing mills located downstream. Initiatives including working on cattle grazing issues on the open areas of forestry landholdings, as well as the impact of sugar cane and citrus farming to identify practices that would ensure better water management at a catchment scale.

A landscape approach to water stewardship helps water users in a catchment to work together across physical and sectoral boundaries to build the resilience of natural and social systems at a landscape scale to improve water resource management ensuring "some water, for all, for ever".

 A KZN Wetland – courtesy WWF-SA
A KZN Wetland - courtesy WWF-SA