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Nigerian Wetland Project

Community Empowered

A collaborative project by BirdLife and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF; BirdLife in Nigeria) has empowered a community to improve a local wetland. Habitat management has greatly improved the wetland, and local people are already catching more and bigger fish. The forthcoming annual waterbird count will soon reveal how birds have also benefited.

The pilot scheme is part of the Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) project, a large collaborative initiative aimed at conserving migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the African-Eurasian region. WOW has been operational in Nigeria since the middle of 2007, and is working with local partners to foster local solutions to the environmental challenges they face with regard to the wetlands and their livelihoods. The Hadejia Nguru wetlands are an Important Bird Area and Ramsar site in the Sahel zone of northeastern Nigeria, and the location for the WOW demonstration project. The wetlands are an important wintering and stop-over site for waterbirds migrating between Europe and Africa. They offer respite and water for 68 species such as Ruff Philomachus pugnax and Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis. The wetland is also very valuable to the 1.5 million farmers, herders and fishermen who depend on it for their income and subsistence. The area is a floodplain comprising of permanent lakes and seasonal pools, all connected by channels. These pools are very important, as they allow fishermen to fish, and farmers to irrigate their land outside of the wet season.

However, the role of the plain, as both a habitat for birds and a livelihood resource, is under threat. Hydrological changes, caused by upstream dams and other land-use activities, have slowed the water flow through the channels, and have allowed the native Typha species - a type of reed - to thrive. This has blocked the waterways; stemming their flow, reducing the flooding needed to irrigate farms, and preventing pools from forming.

The WOW demonstration project is enabling one community - Dabar Magini - to restore an area of the wetlands. A village committee has been set up and provided with basic hand-tools to manually clear the Typha, and since the beginning of the year in excess of 10km of waterways have been reclaimed.

Already local people are reporting benefits, saying pools are forming further from the lakes than before and that bigger and more fish are being caught. They're so impressed with the results that they've independently set-up a maintenance programme. An annual waterbird count will soon reveal how birds have also benefited.

"We noticed a significant change this year", said Malam Maman Kaniniyo the village head of Daba Magini. "Apart from getting bigger and more fish catch, farmers have also reclaimed most of their farm lands and grazing areas, and no over-flooding was experienced in the last rainy season. We associated all this to the channelization exercise, persuaded by the Hadejia-Nguru Wetlands Demonstration Project in collaboration with my people". The Hadejia Nguru Wetlands Conservation Centre has also been renovated. As well as being an awareness and community post for local people, the centre has been improved to enhance applied research activities, hosting university and school groups. The income generated will be ploughed back into the project, ensuring a long-term future.

"It gladdens me, seeing the wetlands information centre now renovated and people are visiting in mass", said Umaru Gambo - Chairman of the Nguru Integrated Farmers Association. "This is a clear indication that the effort invested by the NCF-WOW Hadejia-Nguru Wetlands Demonstration Project, to inform and encourage the sustainable use of the wetlands is becoming fully under stood and widely taken by all stake holders in the wetlands area"

The big success of this project, says Dr Jonathan Barnard, BirdLife's Programme and Projects Manager, has been the level of self-mobilisation the local community has achieved. "What this project has done is to foster and build positive attitudes, as well as harness the community's latent enthusiasm. The community has seen what can be achieved, and are now taking this forward independently, demonstrating their commitment to improving wetland management".

There are other communities in the region who have seen what has been accomplished, and are now keen to implement their own schemes. "The lessons learnt from this demonstration will be used to extend it further, as well as being applied to the whole WOW initiative", said Dr Barnard.

The WOW project is a joint effort led by Wetlands International in partnership with BirdLife International, UNEP-GEF, the United Nations Office for Project Services, and will operate in close coordination with the UNEP/AEWA Secretariat, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and a wide range of local partners along the African-Eurasian Flyways. The project is supported by the UNEP Global Environment Facility, the German government, UNEP/AEWA Secretariat and several other donors.

4th July 2014