Dr. Pollard from AWARD in South Africa visting Wetlands Alliance
Written by Sharon Pollard Wednesday, 01 June 2011 10:36
Exploring the role of community-based action research processes in South East Asia and the Wise Use of Wetlands Programme in South Africa and the potential for practitioner networks
As background I am here as part of a short sabbatical to foster collaborative learning and engagement on community-led research (known as Tai Baan in Thailand and Salaphoum in Cambodia). I work for a research and development NGO in South Africa - the Association for Water & Rural Development (AWARD; www.award.org.za) as research manager (water resources management) and director. We are based in the far-north of the country near the Mozambique border. Our focus is on sustainability and livelihood support for the rural poor viewed through the lens of water security. We have worked over an enormously wide range of topics but of interest to this document are the interrelated themes of
1. wetlands and livelihoods (this is a ‘local scale’ focus), and
2. building capacity for integrated water resources management (this is a basin-wide focus).
South Africa, like many countries is struggling with deepening and giving effect to its commitment to sustainability of freshwater resources as well as democratization following 50 years of racist policies which excluded the vast majority of people from natural resources. In this context, there is a strong commitment to stakeholder-centred processes as well as accountability and transparency. Community-based natural resource management is not new but as Pollard & Cousins (2008) pointed out, CBNRM in the field of freshwater resources is surprisingly undeveloped. Moreover it is still based on the concept of external agents being the ‘experts’ and doing the research. What Brazil and Thailand started was a process that questioned this orientation and in the case of Thailand, Tai Baan (villager led research) placed the local residents at the centre of the research process.
Although South Africa lags behind such innovative approaches, the seeds of such work are being tested as part of the National Working for Wetlands Wise Use Programme. The Working for Wetlands Programme is a government initiative to rehabilitate wetlands whilst creating employment. The programme has been technically fixing wetlands for some eight years but have noted the lack of community involvement and interest. The Wise Use component is hoping to address some of these concerns and we have adopted and adapted a “Tai Baan” approach. Currently the Wise Use Programme is developing and testing approaches to improve the social aspects of the Working for Wetlands work through collaborative and learning processes in Venda in the far north of the country (photo).