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

We need to plan for water security

By: Deon Nel – head of the biodiversity unit of WWF South Africa.

With Human Rights Day fresh in our minds, it is appropriate to reflect on the words of the late Kader Asmal, an unrelenting defender of human rights and a former minister of water affairs. Speaking as the patron of WWF South Africa’s Water Balance Programme, Asmal observed that “water runs through our every aspiration as a society”.

The World Economic Forum ranked a “water supply crisis” as the second most important global risk in its Global Risks 2012 report. Photograph: Mahesh Kumar A/AP

Water affects everything we do, both positive and negative. From a governance point of view, this complicates things. To illustrate, some of the most important strategic decisions affecting water – for instance, mining, agriculture, urban planning and energy – are not led by the Department of Water Affairs, which merely plays an administrative role of issuing water licences, often after the fact. Added to this, the minister of mineral resources is currently asking the Constitutional Court to further exempt mining from the normal planning processes that apply to all other forms of economic development.

This would be problematic. However, when we consider the dire water situation, it reaches a critical scale.

The nascent National Planning Commission (NPC) provides a unique opportunity to deal with such a highly integrative and complex issue at its appropriate national strategic level. The first report produced by the NPC, the national diagnostic report, recognised the fundamental role of water. Continue reading

Water is critical to creating a better future

Source: FAO

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said that producing enough food to feed the world’s rapidly growing population will require the international community to ensure the sustainable use of the world’s “most critical finite resource,” water.

1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted each year

“Unless we increase our capacity to use water wisely in agriculture, we will fail to end hunger and we will open the door to a range of other ills, including drought, famine and political instability,” warned Ban in a statement read at the start of World Water Day 2012 ceremonies taking place at FAO.

In many parts of the world, water scarcity is increasing and rates of growth in agricultural production have been slowing, he noted. At the same time, climate change is exacerbating risk and unpredictability for farmers, “especially for poor farmers in low-income countries who are the most vulnerable and the least able to adapt,” he said.

Guaranteeing sustainable food and water security for all will require transferring appropriate water technologies, empowering small food producers and conserving essential ecosystem services, the UN chief said. He also called for policies that promote water rights for all, stronger regulatory capacity and gender equality.

“Water will play a central role in creating the future we want,” concluded Ban. “At the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit, the international community will need to connect the dots between water security and food and nutrition security in the context of a green economy.” Continue reading

Water security is our biggest threat

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 16 May 2011

Water security is the biggest threat facing society and the South African public should be taking water issues more seriously, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has said.

Let's not think about building more dams

“We’re naturally a country with water limits – it’s the life blood of our existence,” Dr Morné Du Plessis CEO of WWF South Africa told News24.

He made his remarks as the WWF celebrated 50 years with the striking of a silver R2 coin on Table Mountain on Thursday.

The conservation body has been a persistent activist for the protection of endangered animals, but also tackles wider environmental issues like climate change and renewable energy. It has lobbied the government to ensure that SA uses 100% renewable energy by 2050.

“Certainly we have a pre-occupation with catchments, so let’s not think about building more dams in our fynbos areas. There is surplus water we can and should be using,” said Du Plessis. Continue reading

Where does our water come from?

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 23 March 2011

“South Africa needs to be more sensible about the use and management of land and water resources. The more we reduce the ecosystems’ ability to deliver clean fresh water, the less water secure we will be and the greater the cost we will have to pay for our water,” says Mark Botha, Head of WWF’s conservation programmes.

We need to concentrate more of our efforts on catchment security. Photo by: Peter Chadwick

This week (20-27 March) marks South Africa’s National Water Week 2011, and the theme for this year is, “Water for cities: addressing the urban water challenge.”

“Many South Africans, especially those living in urban areas do not have a full understanding of where the water that flows from their taps really comes from, and the key role clean catchments play in providing it,” says Botha.

“Cape Town has run out of water many times in the last century. Each time an expensive “supply side” solution was found to buy us more time, but always at a cost. Now, with augmentation (further water supply) options rapidly diminishing, we’re finding that the biggest cost of dams is the complacency that they leave us with as ratepayers.”

“At some point, we need to realise that we cannot only continue building more dams and other water infrastructure, but that it is imperative to invest in the natural resources that we already have. We need to concentrate more of our efforts on catchment security,” says Botha. Continue reading