Each year on February 2, parties to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) of 1971 celebrated World Wetlands Day, which provides an opportunity to raise awareness on the significance of the world’s wetlands to humanity and the environment. This year World Wetlands Day was celebrated under the theme “Wetlands and Agriculture” to complement 2014 as the UN International Year of Family Farming.
For the longest time, wetlands were often viewed as a barrier to agriculture, and they continue to be drained and reclaimed to make farming land available. However, the essential role of wetlands in support of agriculture is becoming clearer, and there are successful agricultural practices which support healthy wetlands.
National Celebrations were led by the Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi, at the Mbongolwane Sports Field, Eshowe, in KwaZulu-Natal. Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi indicated that over the past two decades, the environment sector has made great strides as government and DEA have worked tirelessly towards the national vision of a prosperous and equitable society living in harmony with its natural resources.
The Deputy Minister poke of this harmony during her address, advising that, “The need to find this balance, as well as recognize the importance of wetlands to agriculture, can be achieved through collaborations and initiatives aimed at ensuring integrated water resources planning, reducing the impacts of agriculture on water quality, managing land and water for multifunctional agro-ecosystems and restoring wetlands in Agricultural landscapes.”
Wetlands and agriculture are now recognized as partners for growth, and both sectors need to work together for the best shared outcomes. Wetlands have been used for agriculture for millennia, especially riverine wetlands in ﬂoodplains, where the soil is fertile and water is plentiful.
Unfortunately, the drainage and reclamation of wetlands for agriculture have become ever more widespread and effective. In some regions of the world, more than 50 percent of peatlands, marshes, floodplains and other wetland areas have been lost, primarily owing to conversion for agricultural use.
Millions of people all over the world now depend directly on agriculture, forestry and fishing, or some combination of these for their livelihoods. As such, agriculture is often a primary driver of economic growth in developing countries. However, this development comes at the price of wetlands, which provide vital ecosystem services that people are now beginning to recognize.
Wetlands provide food and other agricultural products, such as fuel and ﬁber directly through agricultural-production activities that take place within wetlands, such as in rice paddies, coastal grazing marshes, recession agriculture and aquaculture in large ﬂoodplains, and cropping of small seasonal wetlands.
Wetlands also support agriculture by providing fertile soils and reliable supplies of good-quality water. Urban expansion, such as land reclamation, conversion for aquaculture, pollution, sedimentation and siltation are among the most common factors affecting wetland ecosystems.
Given their importance for water supply and food production, wetlands are also a key element in achieving the goals of poverty alleviation worldwide.