Farming places water security at risk

There is not enough fresh water in South Africa to go around, and experts say water availability is the most important factor limiting agricultural production — yet farmers are often their own worst enemies when it comes to water management.

South Africa’s water problems are exacerbated by small farm dams with high surface area to volume ratios.

South Africa’s water problems are exacerbated by small farm dams with high surface area to volume ratios.

It is projected that South Africa could run out of water by 2025 — and in Gauteng, Africa and South Africa’s economic hub, by as early as 2015. More than 95% of the country’s available fresh water was already allocated by 2005.

“We’ve had a huge scare with electricity prices, but I think water is also unreasonably priced (too low),” says Jeanne Nel, a biodiversity and ecosystems services scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

While farmers are not solely to blame, agriculture is allocated the largest portion of South Africa’s available fresh water, with about 63% going to irrigation. This is sobering when it is considered that only 12% of South Africa’s landmass is considered arable and only 3% “truly fertile”. Only 1.5% of the land is under irrigation, producing 30% of the country’s crops.

“In the face of the far more obvious negative impacts that mining and industrial use and pollution have (on the environment), farmers often get away with a lot,” says Dr Nel. “Farming’s effects are a lot more insidious. If you keep drawing up water all the time, that does not create a big change all at once, but it can create a huge problem. We do need to put it into context — there are good and bad mining practices just as there are good and bad farming practices.” Continue reading Farming places water security at risk

We need to transform the way water is used

There is no food security without water security

Drought in some parts of the world has hurt global grain production and contributed to food price spikes virtually every other year since 2007, highlighting the need to transform the way water is used – and wasted – throughout the entire food chain.

This is one of the key messages that the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (“FAO”) is transmitting this week at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. The annual event brings policy makers and experts from around the globe together to discuss pressing issues related to water and its management.

In a speech made today at the Week’s opening ceremony, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva stressed that “there is no food security without water security,” noting that FAO’s recent report, The State of Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture, warns that water scarcity and pollution are posing a growing risk to key food production systems around the world.

“Agriculture, as we practice it today, is one of the causes of this phenomenon, as it represents 70% of all freshwater uses,” said Graziano da Silva.

But, he also noted, the food production sector also offers tremendous potential for changing how the world uses water. Continue reading We need to transform the way water is used

Famine claims hundreds every day in Somalia

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 22 July 2011

Famine in Somalia has killed tens of thousands of people in recent months and could grow even worse unless urgent action is taken, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on Wednesday. FAO has appealed for $120 million for response to the drought in the Horn of Africa to provide agricultural emergency assistance.

Around 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are currently in need of emergency assistance

Hundreds of people are dying every day and if we do not act now many more will perish,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.

“We must avert a human tragedy of vast proportions. And much as food assistance is needed now, we also have to scale up investments in sustainable immediate and medium-term interventions that help farmers and their families to protect their assets and continue to produce food.

Special report

In a special report published today [20 July 2011] the FAO-managed Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network officially declared a state of famine in two regions of southern Somalia, Bakool and Lower Shabelle.

The report warns that in the next one or two months famine will become widespread throughout southern Somalia.

Together with ongoing crises in the rest of the country, the number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 million to 3.7 million in the last 6 months.  Altogether, around 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are currently in need of emergency assistance. Continue reading Famine claims hundreds every day in Somalia

Locust plague possible in Madagascar

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 21 June 2011

A current build up of locust populations in south-western Madagascar could turn into a plague and seriously endanger the livelihoods of 13 million people unless a new campaign is launched to contain the crop-devouring insects, FAO said today.

A bio pesticide used in 2010 prevented a locust upsurge escalating into a plague

According to latest estimates on the ground some 300 000 ha of locust-infested territory needs to be treated from November 2011 to May 2012 at a cost of $7.6 million.

“We must break the locust population dynamics in order to prevent further developments that could affect the island for years and seriously impact on the livelihoods of two thirds of the population, or 13 million people,” said FAO Locust Officer Annie Monard, who is coordinating anti-locust operations in Madagascar.

Locust upsurge

Since August 2010 FAO, together with the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and USAID has been helping the Malagasy Locust Control Centre (CNA) contain populations of Malagasy Migratory Locusts following an upsurge in March of last year.

After training and formation of national teams, anti-locust operations were concentrated in the months from October 2010 to April 2011, corresponding to the rainy season and the locust breeding period. Some 200 000 hectares (ha) infested by locusts were sprayed by helicopter while ground-based control measures were deployed over 27 000 ha and are continuing.  Continue reading Locust plague possible in Madagascar

Water warning for agriculture

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 09 June 2011

Climate change will have major impacts on the availability of water for growing food and on crop productivity in the decades to come, warns a new FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] report.

Loss of glaciers will eventually impact the amount of surface water available for agriculture

‘Climate Change, Water, and Food Security’ is a comprehensive survey of existing scientific knowledge on the anticipated consequences of climate change for water use in agriculture.

These include reductions in river runoff and aquifer recharges in the Mediterranean and the semi-arid areas of the Americas, Australia and southern Africa — regions that are already water-stressed. In Asia, large areas of irrigated land that rely on snowmelt and mountain glaciers for water will also be affected, while heavily populated river deltas are at risk from a combination of reduced water flows, increased salinity, and rising sea levels.

Additional impacts described in the report:

An acceleration of the world’s hydrological cycle is anticipated as rising temperatures increase the rate of evaporation from land and sea. Rainfall will increase in the tropics and higher latitudes, but decrease in already dry semi-arid to mid-arid latitudes and in the interior of large continents. A greater frequency in droughts and floods will need to be planned for but already, water scarce areas of the world are expected to become drier and hotter.

Even though estimates of groundwater recharge under climate change cannot be made with any certainty, the increasing frequency of drought can be expected to encourage further development of available groundwater to buffer the production risk for farmers. Continue reading Water warning for agriculture