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Working Wetlands: Classifying Wetland Potential for Agriculture

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Type: Working Paper
Author: McCartney, Matthew; Masiyandima, Mutsa; Houghton-Carr, Helen A.
Date: 2005
Agency: International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo, Sri Lanka
Series: IWMI Research Report no. 90
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3732
Sector: Agriculture
Water Resource & Irrigation
Subject(s): wetlands
natural resources
Abstract: "In many developing countries, improvement in natural resource management is widely perceived to be the key to sustainability, and central to overcoming both developmental and environmental problems. The trade-off between environmental protection and development is most acute in fragile ecosystems such as wetlands. Wetlands are of value because they play an important role in maintaining environmental quality, sustaining livelihoods and supporting biodiversity. Many wetland functions effectively 'work' for the benefit of people. However, social and economic factors often result in pressure to make wetlands work harder, for example, through their utilization for agriculture. Astute development and management of wetlands can add considerable value to the 'goods' and 'services' that they provide, but care is needed because inappropriate use undermines long-term benefits. "In this report, a 'working wetland' is defined as a managed wetland in which a rational compromise is made between its ecological condition and the level of human utilization. A systematic and semi-quantitative method of evaluation is presented, which enables the classification of the 'potential' of using a working wetland for specified agricultural activities. The approach, which is underpinned by the concept of 'wise use,' is based on a form of multi-criteria analysis that integrates biophysical and socioeconomic aspects of wetland utilization. The 'potential class' emerges from the aggregation of two values. The first of these arises from an appraisal of both the biophysical and socioeconomic suitability of using the wetland for agriculture. The second results from an assessment of the possible hazards, in relation to both social welfare and the ecological condition of the wetland. The method, which is demonstrated by application to three case studies, is a pragmatic approach that provides a context for making explicit the trade-offs associated with wetland agriculture. It enables a preliminary screening of proposed activities prior to more detailed environmental and health impact assessments."

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