Upper Sand River Wetlands – Tackling Sustainability Issues Together

The Sand River Wetlands are located in the Limpopo Province of South Africa along the upper part of one of the shallowest and shortest rivers in the country. The name of the river was derived from its sandy banks, which become more noticeable during times of drought. While it is considered a perennial river, it is not uncommon to find it dry during the winter months. The Sand River basin consists of a grassy veld area, which has deteriorated significantly mostly because of overgrazing; several mines; and the wetlands, which play a crucial role as a steady source of income and fresh water for local communities that live in proximity to the river. The wetlands also provide an ideal ecosystem for a variety of rare and endangered plants, birds and frogs.

Upper Sand River of Limpopo (Photo: Science Education through Earth Observation for High Schools)

Upper Sand River of Limpopo (Photo: Science Education through Earth Observation for High Schools)

Policy Changes Geared to Rehabilitate the Wetlands

Recently, South Africa has undertaken a complete overhaul of its national water and sanitation policies and the surrounding laws. The goal of these extensive changes is to protect the quality and quantity of the country’s water and to increase sustainability of national natural resources in general.

The history of the Upper Sand River Wetlands area features high population density, with high levels of poverty and unemployment. Many poor families rely on the wetlands for their only source of income – agriculture. The same territory also provides a safe habitat for unique flora and fauna, and as we know, human interference can easily disrupt the biological balance they need in order to survive. Seeing as this natural environment has ecological value on the one hand and agricultural value on the other, joint efforts are being made, together with the World Wildlife Fund’s South African branch, to facilitate both needs in a sustainable manner.

Goals and Objectives

The first major objective of the Upper Sand River Wetlands rehabilitation program is raising awareness of the restoration project’s advantages and actively involving the local community in the process.

The second objective was forming an educational support program for the local farming community. This entails finding ways to allow them to continue using the wetlands as a resource without disturbing the sensitive natural balance. Then, teaching them how to implement these methods and learning from their professional input as longtime farmers. Thanks to this program, the Sand River farmers are not only improving their farming practices, but actually gaining environmental expertise. They are acquiring tools that enable them to identify various factors and use relevant indicators to keep track of the wetlands’ health.

By closely documenting this process and involving farmers, stakeholders and other interested parties in the restoration initiative a number of goals are being addressed at once. The program is supporting rural communities, experimenting and examining new and sustainable approaches to wetland restoration, enhancing agricultural produce and of course, improving the disrupted ecological balance. Seeing as it is still in its early stages, it is difficult to draw any clear conclusions, but the direction is promising and the local engagement is indeed encouraging.