Pioneering a new approach to wetland management

April 25, 2012

Mondi is introducing a new approach to wetland management that could serve as a model for other corporate landowners, and have significant impacts on other operational areas, including safety. 

Zoar wetland near Iswepe
Zoar wetland near Iswepe, 12 years after it was rehabilitated. (Photo: Maryann Rivers-Moore)
Harvesting weaving grasses from wetland Discussion composition of wetland soils
A member of the local community harvesting weaving grasses from a healthy wetland, Melmoth. Damian Walters (right), MWP: Coordinator, Wise Use of Wetland Resources Programme, discusses the composition of wetland soils with Mondi's Environment Manager: Forests, Chris Burchmore (left) and Uwe Foelster, Mondi Group Head of Sustainable Development, at Lake Merthley, Greytown. (Photo: David Lindley)
Fishing at Zoar wetland Cows grazing on Mondi wetland
Local community member fishing in the rehabilitated Zoar wetland, which is able to support people's livelihoods by providing a much-needed source of protein. (Photo: Damian Walters) The Mondi State of the Wetland report found that grazing (harvestable resources) of wetlands is an important ecosystem service provided by 64% of the wetlands found on Mondi property. (Photo: Damian Walters)

Mondi is one of the largest private owners of wetlands in South Africa, with 20 000 ha of wetlands situated in open areas on its South African plantations. As a company that takes its environmental responsibility seriously, it’s no surprise that Mondi has played a leading role – through its involvement in the Mondi Wetlands Programme (MWP) – in promoting awareness and better management and rehabilitation of wetlands.

The Mondi Wetlands Programme was established in 1991 by the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA (WESSA) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – in partnership with Mondi and the Mazda Wildlife Fund – to get South Africans working together to protect the health of wetlands, which provide a host of crucial ecological services.

Over the past 20 years, the MWP has played a major role in catalysing and supporting the government-led Working for Wetlands programme, helped provincial governments work with communal wetland users, and strengthened wetland management capacity within government and commercial landowners. It has also played a key role in raising awareness of the importance of wetlands outside of the forestry industry, and has helped the sugar industry develop a sustainable farm management system.

However, despite some important wetland rehabilitation and delineation successes, research has shown that wetland learning and practice in Mondi, and its integration into every-day forestry operations, was generally weak.

The root causes inhibiting wetland management could be as a result of institutional factors that are of historical and cultural origin within the company, and are common to other corporates as well.


The MWP team has embarked on an exciting process of unlocking the institutional barriers and creating a platform for more effective and integrated wetland management and practice by forestry employees through an 'expansive learning' process. This is a form of learning where participants work together to identify the 'barriers', and develop solutions and new forms of practice.

This process works differently from the more traditional approach of employing 'experts' to establish wetland management standards and expecting field staff to implement them.

Through an expansive learning process started in 2010 and continued into 2011, Mondi field staff responsible for wetland stewardship identified key inhibiting factors, deepened their understanding of them and developed solutions. The key participants were foresters, forestry operations supervisors, environmental support staff, and community engagement facilitators. Staff then began to implement the solutions through 11 projects in the five geographical regions of Mondi.

A culture of learning

A key component of this approach is to create a 'safe' space for staff to interact, share experiences and learn from others operating outside of their own 'silos' of professional expertise, through field days, site visits and social interaction. This encourages a culture within the organisation where learning, sharing ideas and solving problems in collaboration with relevant staff from other professional disciplines becomes a way of life.

In response to solutions identified by Mondi staff during the expansive learning process, a number of initiatives to improve institutional learning around catchment-based environmental issues have emerged. Workshops have been run with community engagement and development facilitators to support the strengthening of skills in environmental learning methods through the use of an interactive catchment-based learning tool to strengthen their community work. Follow-up workshops to support and assess the development of their competence in using the tool in their community work as well as for learning and sharing with other Mondi staff, has taken place.

Supervisor training

The MWP team has worked with WESSA's Sustain-Ed Programme to develop an environmental module for the forestry industry's Supervisor Development Training Programme that incorporates effective environmental training methods through the use of the catchment-based learning tool. A workshop will be organised for approximately six trainers, who will be running the Environmental Module for the industry, on effective and appropriate environmental learning and training methods.

This module is intended to take catchment- (including wetlands) based environmental learning into the formal training of the broader forestry industry, and can feed into and inform other industries such as sugar and mining.

Although the current project is focusing on wetland management, it has the potential to be equally game changing in other key areas of business, such as safety.

Published in February 2012

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Husband and wife team Nomthandazo Hlombe and Fisokuhle Ngcobo, NCT’s Tree Farmers of the Year 2021, demonstrate how to establish and build a sustainable tree farming operation in faraway Matimatolo, near Kranskop in the KZN midlands. By Samora Chapman. ...

The largest mangrove reforestation project in Africa has been launched by Mozambique’s Ministry of Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries (MIMAIP) in partnership with Blue Forest, a UAE-based mangrove reforestation specialist. Read more

📸 Lake St Lucia, Chris Chapman.

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) in South Africa for 2022 has been set at R23.19 per hour, which translates to R185.52 for an eight-hour day, and R3 710.40 for a month with 20 working days. This represents a 6.9% increase over the 2021 NMW. Can employers afford it? Link in bio... #forestry #labour
📸 Chris Chapman

With the onset of what promises to be a cold winter, this photo provides a timely reminder of what happens to wattle trees when it snows. No! It’s not a good idea to plant wattle if snow is a possibility. The only thing you could use these broken trees for is firewood. The photo was taken near Weza a few years ago. Find out more about trees and snow... Link in bio. #trees #wood #forestry #timber #logging #forestryafrica #wattle #snow ...

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram