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How Do Individuals And Groups Perceive Wetland Functioning? The Use Of Fuzzy Cognitive Maps In Unravelling Wetland Perceptions In Uganda

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Charissa Bosma, Klaus Glenk, Paula Novo
The University of Edinburgh1, The James Hutton Institute2

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,

1. Introduction

Wetlands are one of the most valuable and productive ecosystems on this planet, providing a wide range of important ecosystem services (Kirsten, 2005). Yet, they are among the most threatened ecosystems. Wetlands are themselves dynamic in their nature; however, human activity has significantly altered the natural processes in these ecosystems (Barbier et al., 1997). Population growth, agricultural expansion, increasing access to markets, upland soil degradation, and weak regulation are just a few of the pressures driving wetland land use change and degradation (Chapman et al., 2014).

Sustainable management requires an understanding of the complex human-nature interactions. Especially if local livelihoods are highly dependent on ecosystems, the role of stakeholders' perceptions of the ecosystem and its management can provide important insights to inform the development of sustainable management strategies. These considerations point to a clear need for eliciting local stakeholders' perceptions of wetland ecosystems, thus providing information on areas of consensus and conflicting demands between different types of users to help improve the governance of the system.

This paper focuses on the role of stakeholders' and community perceptions of the functioning of the Rwamucucu wetland in Uganda. Fuzzy cognitive mapping (FCM) is used to elicit stakeholder and community perceptions on variables characterizing the wetland system, and the relationships between these variables (Özesmi and Özesmi, 2004). Fuzzy cognitive maps (N=40) were obtained for a wide range of stakeholder groups, as well as one group-constructed map of the local communities as a whole. The cognitive maps obtained for the different stakeholder groups are then used to generally understand the functioning of the wetland ecosystem as perceived by stakeholders and the community, to identify knowledge that is shared among stakeholder groups, and to expose areas of (potential) conflicts and consensus. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first application of FCM to a wetland ecosystem with open access character in a developing country context.

2. Methods and materials

2.1. Fuzzy cognitive mapping

Stakeholder perceptions are elicited using the cognitive mapping technique. Cognitive maps are qualitative models that describe how a certain system operates according to the respondent, and consist of variables and the causal relationships between these variables (Park and Kim, 1995). The underlying assumption of FCM is that individuals have cognitive models that are "internal representations of the partially observed world" (Özesmi, 1999:4). In consequence, cognitive models are an important aspect of individual decision-making.

2.2. Sample design

This research focuses on the area surrounding the Rwamucucu wetland in the South-West of Uganda. The wetland is largely intact, although areas of land use change and degradation can be found. A total of 40 individuals were selected for the development of individual fuzzy cognitive maps (31 male, 9 females). Of these participants, 6 are papyrus harvesters, 6 are beekeepers, 8 are fisherman, 9 are farmers, 6 belong to the group 'government officials', 3 are non-wetland users, and 2 are hunters. To determine whether this sample size was sufficient, an accumulation curve of the total number of variables versus the number of maps was created, and indicates a sufficient sample size.

3. Results and discussion

The obtained fuzzy cognitive maps account for 183 distinct variables that are associated with the Rwamucucu wetland. The variables mentioned by individuals from different stakeholder groups are rather similar and the results indicate that among all stakeholder groups there is a high focus on ecosystem service benefits that people derive from the wetland, and a somewhat lesser focus on disservices from the wetland and on peoples' impacts on the wetland. Conflicts between stakeholders arise with regard to the issues of burning, agricultural encroachment, overextraction of resources, water pollution, deforestation, planting of eucalyptus trees, and intrusion of the wetland by non-locals.

Stakeholders' maps were also aggregated into one 'social' map containing all 40 individual maps, and compared to the obtained group map (constructed by two papyrus harvester, one beekeeper, one fisherman, two farmers, and one hunter) to capture community knowledge. The social map and the group map are rather similar in the variables and relationships they portray, but the group map, which requires consensus between the respondents, illustrates less conflicts between stakeholders, which may be due to a lack of consensus during cognitive map construction or power relations in which one or more individuals' perceptions are dominant over others.

4. Conclusions

The case study has shown that FCM is able to elicit information on the resource system, resource users and relationships between resource users. This study indicates that while there are some differences in the perceptions of stakeholders, most people have similar views on the system. Ecosystem services benefits derived from the wetland seem to be very important in all stakeholder maps, indicating that people from the community are dependent on the wetland for their livelihood.

FCM has shown to be very useful to identify conflicts between stakeholder groups. The methodology has pointed out the exact points of conflict between different stakeholder groups. Agricultural encroachment and burning of the wetland were the most important subjects of conflict. In relation to these conflicts, stakeholders also bring forward the positive relationship between laws and rules on wetland use. This indicates that stakeholders believe that the future sustainability of the wetland may benefit from increased laws and law enforcement.

1. Chapman, L.J., Balirwa, J., Bugenyi, F.W.B., Chapman, C., Crisman, T.L. (2001). Wetlands of East Africa: Biodiversity, exploitation, and policy perspectives. Biodiversity in Wetlands:Assessment, Function and Conservation, Volume 2, eds. B. Gopal,W.J. Junk & J.A. Davis, pp. 101–131. Leiden, the Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers.

2. Kirsten, D.S. (2005). Economic consequences of wetland degradation for local populations. Ecological Economics 53: 177-190.

3. Özesmi, U. (1999). Ecosystems in the mind: Fuzzy Cognitive Maps of the Kizilirmak Delta Wetlands in Turkey, University of Minnesota, Ph.D Dissertation. Available from: [accessed on April 30, 2014].

4. Özesmi, U. and Özesmi, S.L. (2004). Ecological models based on people’s knowledge: A multi-step fuzzy cognitive mapping approach. Ecological Modelling 176: 43-64.

5. Park, K.S., and Kim, S.H. (1995). Fuzzy cognitive maps considering time relationships. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 41: 157-168.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin