Researchers Recommend System Dynamics Approach in the Management of Wetlands

Wetlands provide goods and services like water and fish as well as water purification and flood mitigation. However, they are used unsustainably leading to degradation. The search for fertile soils and water for animals and agricultural use, as well as papyrus for commercial purposes has heightened degradation. According to a study conducted by researchers from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), Makerere University and Michigan State University, food and economic security are the main drivers of encroachment and the main activities caried out within the wetland are farming (40%), vegetation harvesting (25%) and fishing (24%). Although a number of interventions have been made to protect wetlands, encroachment persists. To minimize the challenge, it is important for all stakeholders to understand the structure of the wetland system and its linkage with livelihood activities.

The Principal Investigator, Dr Ellen Kayendeke briefs participants about the project

Through a project titled, “Participatory Modelling for Livelihood Security and Ecological Integrity in a Ugandan Wetland-Agricultural System”, the researchers led by Dr Ellen Kayendeke from the Department of Environmental Management, CAES, and Prof. Laura Schmitt Olabisi from Michigan State University conducted a survey among wetland users on the drivers of wetland degradation and how this impacts ecosystem services. The overall objectives of the project were; i) to generate information about the causal links and feedback mechanisms between wetland management and livelihood activities, and ii) to create an improved and shared understanding of the wetland-agricultural system structure among the stakeholders. Other members on the project included Prof. Frank Kansiime from the Department of Environmental Management; and Prof. David Mfitumukiza from the Department of Geography, Geo-informatics and Climatic Sciences, CAES, Makerere University.

Prof. Laura Schmitt Olabisi from Michigan State University sensitizing participants on systems thinking

According to the research findings, wetland degradation impacts long-term agricultural productivity, which then perpetuates a cycle of food insecurity and poverty. The short term effects of encroachment include reduction in wetland flora and fauna, and reduced ability to supplement food needs. The long term effects include reduction in soil fertility and low yields. Disseminating their findings to stakeholders on 24th August 2022, the researchers noted that wetland users are aware of the impact of degradation on ecosystem services, but continue to encroach on wetlands. The encroachers claim they cannot vacate the wetlands because of a lack of alternative livelihoods. The researchers advise that efforts to regulate wetland use and educate stakeholders on wise use of wetlands should be complemented with support of alternative livelihoods.

Prof. Laura Schmitt Olabisi sensitizing participants on systems thinking and causal loop diagram methodology at the workshop

Using a system dynamics approach, the researchers generated visual representations (Causal Loop Diagrams) to illustrate the structure and feedback loops of the wetland-agricultural system in Uganda, with a case study of Naigombwa wetland in Iganga District. According to Prof. Laura Schmitt Olabisi, System Thinking is key when dealing with environmental management given the interconnection between different actors.

Participants at the research dissemination workshop

During the research dissemination workshop held at Fairway Hotel in Kampala, the project team sensitized participants on System Dynamics (SD) and Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) methodology and its application to natural resources management. The workshop also served as a platform to validate the CLD of Iganga wetland-agricultural system, and to discuss potential policy measures for effective wetland management. The meeting was attended by the Commissioners, Wetlands Management and Capacity development at the Ministry of Water and Environment; as well as representatives from the National Environment Management Authority; Iganga District Local government; CAES; Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF); Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (SIENR), Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health (UNACOH), GIZ, the media, and a representative of rice farmers in Iganga District.

Participants in group discussions about about the causes of wetland degradation and the Causal Loop Diagram methodology

The workshop was graced by the Deputy Principal of CAES, Prof. Yazidhi Bamutaze, and the Head, Department of Environmental Management at CAES, Prof. Justine Namalwa.

Participants in group discussions
Dr Kayendeke sensitizing participants on the Causal Loop Diagram methodology      

Dissemination-Presentation_Ellen Kayendeke (1)

System Thinking and Causal Loop Diagrams – Dr Laura Schmitt Olabisi



Leave a Reply