Working Wetland Potential: An index to guide the sustainable development of African wetlands
Past experience shows that inappropriate agricultural development in wetlands can undermine sustainability and may have profound social and economic repercussions for people dependent on the range of ecosystem services provided by those wetlands. Nonetheless, there is escalating pressure to expand agriculture within wetlands due to increasing population, in conjunction with efforts to increase food security. This paper describes the development of a semi-analytical framework for identifying, organizing and analyzing the complex factors that link people, agriculture and wetland ecosystems — an index of Working Wetland Potential (WWP). The method is based on a form of multi-criteria analysis that integrates biophysical and socio-economic aspects of wetland utilization. The WWP index emerges from the aggregation of two values: the first arising from an appraisal of both the biophysical and socio-economic suitability of using the wetland for agriculture; and the second resulting from an assessment of the possible hazards, in relation to both social welfare and the ecological character of the wetland. Hence, the approach provides a way to explicitly integrate biophysical and social aspects of wetland utilization in a single index to enable an initial assessment of the suitability of using a wetland for agriculture. Results from three contrasting wetlands in sub-Saharan Africa are presented.