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.
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