Values, management and contributions of the high altitude wetlands to local livelihoods
The concerns regarding the high rates of species extinction in many ecosystems including wetlands seem to have prompted a hub of research aimed at re-designing and institutionalising approaches that would enable appropriate and sustainable management of the wetlands. Most of these approaches, however, have failed to integrate conservational and livelihood values of wild plants and have often resulted in disjointed solutions to resource management problems. In Lesotho the importance of the wetlands goes beyond their role as sources of livelihood for rural households. They are also vital hydrological reservoirs for most Southern Africa and key determinants of economic growth due to generation of hydroelectricity and revenue emanating from the sale of water to South Africa. However, attempts to avert species loss and the need to maintain revenue and other benefits have culminated in conservation measures polarized towards the eco-hydrological values as opposed to the livelihood values of these resources. Six villages in Pelaneng-Bokong area and twenty-nine wetland sites distributed across three management regimes and three grazing zones were studied in order to understand the complexity of the issues. This was attempted by determining floristic patterns of the key livelihood wetland plants, their harvesting and marketing patterns, the role of indigenous management systems as well as the contribution of wetland plant species to local livelihoods portfolios. The findings have shown that key livelihood wetland species were common and widespread in both the communal and RMA areas but poorly represented in Bokong Nature Reserve. Although there were no obvious destructive effects on harvested and traded plants, there were indigenous management practices in place geared towards forestalling over-exploitation and free-riding. The study also uncovered numerous tangible and intangible livelihood benefits from wetland plants, demonstrating that these plants make a difference to livelihood security of the rural households and local assets. The critical role of wetlands as sources of water for Lesotho and Southern African region is acknowledged as well as the need to harmonize hydrological and livelihood values.