St Lucia workshop on Wetlands, Water, and Livelihoods

St Lucia workshop on Wetlands, Water, and Livelihoods

17 February 2006
Saint Lucia

Wetlands International follows up on Ramsar Resolution IX.14.

Between 30 January and 2 February 2006, the shores of one of the most beautiful wetlands in southern Africa, St. Lucia, a Ramsar and World Heritage site, were the venue for a productive workshop organized by one of Ramsar's partner organizations (IOPs), Wetlands International, and the South African National Biodiversity Institute, SANBI. This "Wetlands, Water and Livelihoods" workshop brought together over 80 participants from 30 countries and included representatives from governments, NGOs (including all five of Ramsar's IOPs), intra-governmental institutions, aid organizations, and research institutions. It was aimed at strengthening the understanding between wetland wise management and wetlands' role in supporting people's livelihoods. It also looked at providing direction and identifying priorities for Wetlands International's four-year Wetlands and Poverty Reduction Project (WPRP), which was launched last year and whose activities are designed to catalyze the mainstreaming of wetlands in structural poverty reduction through policy improvements, partnership development, demonstration projects, training and capacity development, and awareness raising and outreach. The Convention was represented by the Senior and Assistant Advisors for Africa, Abou Bamba and Lucia Scodanibbio, in addition to the new Chairperson of Ramsar's Standing Committee, Paul Mafabi of Uganda.

The workshop was an excellent opportunity for us to interact with individuals working in the field and to hear about their projects and success stories, which once again showed that there is much work taking place on the ground towards implementation of the Convention that is not necessarily being reported back to us and duly acknowledged by the Secretariat. In fact we hope to hear more about projects taking place in Ramsar and other wetland sites!

It was also interesting to hear about projects that have not been as successful, however, to see where we can learn from past mistakes and to further recognize that dealing with poverty questions requires understanding of a broad set of subject matters, partnerships with a wide variety of stakeholders and, most importantly, empowerment of local wetland users so that they can control their resources and run the projects that aim to improve their livelihoods. The presentations and discussions further indicated to us that, concomitant with the shift from the Convention's early focus on habitat conservation for waterbirds to the objective of wetland wise use for sustaining livelihoods, and in line with Resolution IX.14, preference in our funding schemes (Small Grants Fund, Swiss Grant for Africa) should be emphasized for projects implementing activities which link wetlands to poverty reduction.

Ramsar partner organizations who were present at the workshop also showed commitment to paving a way forward for the implementation of Resolution IX.14 on "Wetlands and Poverty Reduction", within the framework of the WPRP.

But the workshop did not only take place indoors, and one day saw the participants split into two groups to visit some of the Working for Wetlands projects being carried out in the surroundings of the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. Working for Wetlands is a government programme (shared among the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), Agriculture, and Water Affairs and Forestry) which aims to rehabilitate, protect and sustainably use a number of wetlands in South Africa, while providing employment to local people from marginalized groups. The Tshanetshe Pan, for example, had been drained because of an illegal irrigation channel which caused the loss of the fishing, papyrus and water resources that were essential for the surrounding local communities. By employing a number of local people to build a retaining structure, the pan has been re-flooded (except for when we were there, due to very poor rains in the area this year!), and its tourism potential has increased. The employees are also receiving vocational training skills that they will then be able to apply in future activities.

The workshop concluded with the celebration of World Wetlands Day, with speeches from Leseho Sello, the Head of the Directorate of Biodiversity Conservation in DEAT, and the reading out of the Secretary General's message for WWD by Abou Bamba, with a final big "cheers" by all the participants and songs and dances by schoolchildren and the lodge's kitchen staff alike!

For anybody interested in receiving a newsletter from the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park Authority, please write an email to

For further information on the Working for Wetlands programme and the Mondi Wetlands project see

-- Lucia Scodanibbio, Ramsar

Working for Wetlands community employees at Tshanetshe Pan

Community members involved in swamp farming close to Mbazwana, site of another Working for Wetlands project

Bronwyn James and Jan Sliva tell participants about the uMkhuze River system.

World Wetlands Day at the Seasands Lodge

Abou Bamba, Ramsar

Leseho Sello (DEAT), Ojei Tunde and Maria Stolk (WI), Abou Bamba, and Chris Gordon (CAW)

Schoolchildren sing beautiful songs...

... that lure kitchen staff outside to join!

The beach in St. Lucia just north of the Umfolozi River mouth

Lake St. Lucia