LOCAL FARMERS and Water Stewardship.

LOCAL FARMERS HELP take the lead in water stewardship

By Duncan Hay , Vaughan Koopman and Sue Viljoen
Agriculture is one of the mainstays of KwaZulu-Natal’s rural economy and supplies much of our country’s food and timber needs. But it takes an enormous amount of water – around 70% of what’s available – to produce these products. With 98% of our country’s water already used, and water demand nearing available water supply in the uMngeni system there is a growing urgency for agriculture to share what water stewardship initiatives are in place more broadly and to adopt more responsible water and land use approaches if the sector and is to survive and flourish into the next century.

A typical palustrine wetland.

A typical palustrine wetland.

So how do we better look after our water resources and what is agriculture currently doing? This was the fundamental question that challenged a group of agricultural and commercial plantation forestry leaders, conservationists and researchers who met in the KZN midlands recently in honour of National Water Week. The day-long session was hosted by the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (KWANALU) in conjunction with WWF, the International Water Security Network, UKZN and the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP). The catalyst for this ‘meeting-of-minds’ was the recognition that farmers are the custodians of large portions of our river catchments and the availability of good quality water in the uMngeni, Mooi and upper-Umvoti River catchments – which sustain over 5 million people – is under pressure. After several years of good rainfall, the water risk we collectively face in these catchments is being highlighted by the current drought conditions.

WWF Water Security Workshop participants.

WWF Water Security Workshop participants.

In his introductory comments, Mike Black, President of KWANALU, emphasised that the conservation of both water and land resources was central to good agricultural practice and that most farmers were conservationists at heart. That said, it was recognised that agriculture and commercial forestry, as dominant land-users in these catchments, inevitably impact on water resources. The aim of the day was for each of the main agricultural sectors in the catchments to share their various initiatives to look after water resources in a non-confrontational and constructive manner.
Representatives from Potato SA, Forestry SA, the KZN Milk Producers’ Organisation, the Mooi-Mpofana Irrigation Project, the South African Sugar Association and the Midlands North Sugar Environmental Committee presented their various water stewardship initiatives and the challenges they faced. Inputs from the beef and pork sectors were also heard.
In conclusion it was agreed that for water stewardship to be successful in agricultural requires buy-in and strong leadership from each agricultural sector and should include associated value chains. The important role that KWANALU, conservancies, irrigation boards and catchment management fora play was also emphasised.
In summing up the day Mike Black emphasized that the agricultural sector is currently under great political pressure in the Land space, but that it would probably lessen against wholesale adoption of improved practices by farmers. He said that some sectors of agriculture were clearly ahead of the pack as far as good practice is concerned and there would obviously be pressure on others to collectively improve. He felt that there was an opportunity to involve both sides of the value chain, but that the ultimate pressure to improve practices would come from leading members of communities. He felt that a combined approach incorporating both commodities and communities would be the ideal.
For more information contact Sue Viljoen on sviljoen@wwf.org.za or Vaughan Koopman on vkoopman@wwf.org.za.