As the drought now afflicting most of the agricultural and many of the urban sites of the Western and Eastern Cape cuts ever deeper into the fabric of communities, all non-essential consumption is being assessed to determine its relative priority status.
Those who still enjoy access to any water and whose need is commercial – rather than for the sustenance of human life – are already finding themselves in some kind of a competitive pitch, either in the court of public opinion or for priority once the water tenders come trundling in.
In this, the wine industry finds itself in a better position than Cape Town’s restaurants, hairdressers and hotels – if only because, for the time being at least, it’s not facing a certain Day Zero. When the taps go dry in the Mother City, the vines won’t die (at least, not overnight) and there will be years worth of maturing stock to sustain wine producers (as opposed to grape growers) till the rains come, as one day they will.
Where the growers will face some mid- to long-term concerns will be when it comes to prioritising grape farming in the overall context of agriculture. The wine industry may be a major contributor to the economy of the Western Cape, but it is politically alienated. It’s going to have a tough time arguing for its water rights in the face of the demands of other consumers, whether those who seek potable water, those providing more essential foodstuffs, those who can produce evidence that litre for litre (to parody the late Clive Weil’s “trolley for trolley”) they generate more revenue, more employment, or a better fiscal contribution than other competitors for this resource.
Some regions and districts are better off than others: Elgin, around an hour’s drive from Cape Town, catches more precipitation than many of the coastal appellations and has adequate water supplies for fruit growing and wine-making – for the moment. On the other hand, this year the high-volume, irrigation-dependent growers along the banks of the Olifant’s River could see well over 50% of their potential crop lost – simply because their operations have been designed around optimising crop size (rather than quality) by massively hydrating their vines.
The Clanwilliam dam level is so low that grape growers will be allocated a mere 17% of their normal uptake. While for such large-scale farming operations the drought spells bad news, their crisis will have a relatively small impact on consumers of fine wines. The price of cask wine would go up, as would the price of those beverages which depend on this low-cost grape-based alcohol. The fruit juice industry would also have to look elsewhere for the concentrate with which they create their particular brand of sugary drink.
Vines, as viticulturists constantly remind us, are weeds. They may not thrive on neglect, but unlike roses, for example, they are hardy andrelatively drought-resistant. (In France it is illegal to irrigate vineyards producing appellation contrôlée wines). Vines will not necessarily produce their best fruit under arid conditions, but they will survive, and in some circumstances they might do very well. The best two Coastal Region vintage years in recent memory in South Africa were 2015 and 2017, while 2016 produced some very good wines. This trio of vintages (particularly the latter two) sit firmly in the era of constrained water supply. The 2018 crop will certainly be smaller – even in the areas which are not as dependent on irrigation as the Olifants River – but the smaller berry size could lead to more concentrated flavours. The concerns for now are the potential for excessive vine stress during the ripening season, as well as heat spikes going into the key weeks leading up to the vintage. The next month or two will provide empirical results.
The much more serious effect of the water shortage could be in its impact on wine producers – in other words, those who convert the fruit into wine. Wineries are food factories and consume an enormous amount of water. Many were built in an era when water conservation wasn’t front of mind. In the past couple of decades planning permission has been linked to waste water management, but even here this has generally meant containing the chemicals and waste removed in cleaning and flushing the tanks, barrels and winery buildings. In a situation which is not unlike the one presently confronting hairdressers and restaurateurs, winery owners may have to find a way of performing the processes which define their economic activity without the supplies of water that they have, until now, taken for granted. Recycling what they are able to obtain would certainly be a key component of whatever strategy they devise – but they would have to be more willing (than the Western Cape authorities, for example) to work on the assumption that water shortages are here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future.
Small-scale water recycling plants – of the kind which enable rural real estate developers to provide proper water-borne sewerage management (rather than the more old-fashioned septic tank treatments) cost around R900,000 and turn waste into potable water. This is not an investment lightly undertaken if you believe that by the 2019 vintage the dams will be full. However, if you need to plan the continued existence of a business whose real window of opportunity is a three-month period between the time the grapes come into your cellar, and the fermentation has been complete, you can’t disregard the importance of making the investment: it’s no different from installing generators, inverters and UPS back-ups in a time of load shedding.
The 2018 water crisis is going to have a significant impact on the Cape wine industry. Its primary impact – looking at the whole value chain from vineyards to the distribution of finished wine – will initially be a marginal decline in fine wine availability, a more significant decline (with a commensurate increase in price) in the vin ordinaire sector, with higher average costs per litre produced. These initial shortages may help the industry achieve its objective of a structural re-pricing exercise (though I wouldn’t hold my breath). The bigger question of whether the production sector will be able to adjust to an environment in which supplies of water are semi-permanently constrained will depend on the availability of financial resources, as well as the willingness to invest.
There is a final consideration, seemingly unimportant in the face of more pressing needs, which does need to factored into the industry’s long-term planning: its lobbyists constantly remind government that wine is a key driver of international tourism, which in turn makes an important contribution to the GDP of the Western Cape. If there are fewer tourists because of the long-term effects of the drought, less wine will be sold. Likewise, if the wine industry declines, so might the number of tourists. There will of course be a new equilibrium – but it will come with less employment and more hardship, spread through a population whose prospects are already looking pretty grim.
Cape Town – The department of energy has unveiled a new green standard label, as a means for consumers to recognise clean energy measures, as the 16th annual African Utility Week and Clean Power Africa conference kicks off at the Cape Town Convention Centre.
South Africa has just officially signed the Paris Climate Change agreement and a number of key state departments are involved in ensuring the country meets its 2020 objects, with clean energy also forming an integral part of SA’s 9 point-plan for the national economic turnaround as outlined by President Jacob Zuma during the 2015 State of the Nation Address (SONA).
As a result the Department of Energy (DoE) in collaboration with the Departments of Public Works (DPW);Trade and Industry (the dti), are collaborating on a planned energy efficiency programme – of which the new South African Energy Efficiency Label and the Building Energy Savings Campaign Identity form a part.
The aim is to encourage all South Africans to use energy efficiently, including purchasing energy efficient household appliances, says the department.
“We believe that a nation knowledgeable of the benefits of energy efficiency and the dedicated activation of the appropriate behaviour by all of us will ensure that the country achieves its set energy efficiency objectives,”the DoE says.
“Energy Efficiency Building Regulations as promulgated by government in 2012 have already laid the ground for the regulatory framework by stipulating the requirements for energy usage in buildings and setting the minimum standards for energy efficiency within which all new buildings and major renovations in South Africa are required to comply.”
Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom also recently outlined the departments of tourism’s positive prospects for the SA Tourism sector to go Green in 2016. Six of South Africa’s iconic tourism attractions will be equipped with solar powered energy sources. Recognising the environmental and cost benefits of moving towards renewable energy, the tourism department says it is supporting major destinations to install renewable energy sources as part of the Tourism Incentive Program.
The DoE says the Energy Efficiency Label will further guide and impact positively in changing behaviour towards energy efficiency measures and compel citizens to individually take the lead in whatever platforms they find themselves in.
While no specific responsible tourism or green criteria are currently in place, Tourism Grading Council of South Africa Chief Quality Assurance Office Darryl Erasmus told Traveller24 at Indaba 2016 that these factors are being considered in accordance with other partnerships as the council prepares to upgrade its criteria, after what it describes as rigorous consultation with industry (it was last upgraded in 2012).
The DoE says appliances such as air conditioners, washing machines, electric ovens, refrigerators, electric geysers, audio and video equipment, dish washers and electric lamps will now have energy efficiency labels which have been designed to meet minimum energy efficiency standards.
Having industry wide responsible measures or criteria in place across the tourism accommodation sector would also go a long way into achieving South Africa’s energy efficiency and clean energy targets, as Responsible Tourism becomes a fierce factor across the board.
At World Travel Market Africa in April, Deputy Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa also advocated that Responsible Tourism needed to be ingrained more strongly within the industry beyond just surface engagement, as she encouraged retrofitting tourism attractions and accommodation for energy and water efficiency, as well as universal accessibility.
The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is embarking on an operation to test water in Senekal on 12 to 15 April 2016. Water tankers that supply the community with water, sponsored by the department, will be tested for any hazardous substance or bacteria.
DWS has enlisted the assistance of the University of the Free State (UFS) to test and clean the tanks used to supply water to communities of Senekal. Taking into consideration the health of the community and prioritizing it, DWS will test water from the source where the water tankers are filled and the tankers themselves as well as the nozzles to ensure quality of water is safe for consumption.
Where necessary chemicals such as Sodium Hypochlorite are added to the water in the tank and circulated for a period of thirty minutes before the water can be distributed to consumers. These processes are followed routinely to avoid any outbreaks off illness from consumption of unclean water.
Drought, fire, high temperatures and strong winds have wreaked havoc in the Western Cape’s farming sector, with the fruit and wine industries suffering substantial losses. The province will need a substantial bailout if its farmers are to survive, it was revealed at a briefing on Wednesday. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.
The Western Cape government needs over R80 million to assist drought-stricken farmers, while the regional fruit production sector has suffered losses amounting to R720 million, journalists and members of the province’s Standing Committee on Economic Opportunities, Tourism and Agriculture heard on Wednesday.
The wine industry, which contributes R36 billion to the national economy and makes over 4% of the world’s wine, has suffered losses of a further R20 million. The combination of heat, strong winds, low rainfall and fires have played havoc with the province’s farms, prompting calls for the national government to declare the region a disaster area. The season’s fires have burnt well over 60,000 ha of farmland, with over 6,000 citrus trees and 8ha of rooibos tea destroyed in the Citrusdal/Cedarberg area alone. Vineyards, pipelines, orchards, electric cables and other infrastructure were also destroyed, incurring massive costs for farmers and municipalities alike. Hortgro told the standing committee that the R720m loss would have a “devastating humanitarian impact”, as food prices would rise beyond the reach of the most vulnerable.
The Ceres, Wolseley and Berg River areas were the worst affected, suffering water shortages, major heat waves and crop losses, the committee heard. The drought, extreme heat and strong winds resulted in small fruit – and therefore a decrease in packable fruit – as well as sunburn and a change in pest control and diseases, which led to increased costs. Proposed long-term solutions included regaining access into Thailand, increasing dam sizes, and increasing investment in production infrastructure. According to a presentation by Western Cape Director of Sustainable Resource Management, Andre Roux, August and September 2015’s rainfall, the lowest recorded in 83 years, resulted in crop failure in many areas in the West Coast District. Crop losses varied from 50% to total crop loss in some areas. Agricultural output and employment was likely to drop, and consequently more people would be exposed to food insecurity and vulnerability, Roux added.
Meanwhile in the West Coast and Central Karoo, livestock production is seriously affected due to lack of grazing, and feeding needs to be supplemented with purchased fodder. An assessment is underway in the two districts to determine exactly how much financial aid is needed, although current projections estimate around R88 million for five months.
Stellenbosch, which has around 170 wine farms – the greatest concentration of wine farms in South Africa – has experienced a 33% drop in rainfall during the winter of 2015, with surrounding regions experiencing similar conditions. VinPro told the committee that the South African wine industry, which employs some 300,000 people, saw a 15% decrease in production in 2015, and that although wine producers managed to keep the increase in the cost of wine production to 8%, it would most likely rise to 10 – 15% in 2015. This – in combination with drought and the series of recent fires – was likely to result in further losses. In addition, the fires have a potential impact on the international reputation of South African wines.
“The international demand for South African wines has declined owing to fears of smoke damage,” Beverley Schäfer‚ chairperson of the Standing Committee said in a statement. “This, despite the fact that local winemakers have the facilities to treat the grape for smoke damage, thus eradicating the impact on the flavour. It is critical that government communicates this to international consumers.”
Oenologist, Viticulturist and SAWIS Wine Judge, Lieze Norval, told Daily Maverick that smoke taint was not necessarily a nail in the coffin for South African wines, and that fire damage should be the primary concern for now. Firstly, she said, it’s important to note the areas that were recently affected. Simonsberg, for example, is a prominent wine area – Tokara, Thelema, Simonsig, Muratie, Rustenberg and Glenelly – which are all internationally known, and Elgin is a wine area that is rapidly gaining respect for its Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and is also the home of Appletiser. According to Norval, there have been serious fires that affected well-known wines in the past, and these wines have remained in demand.
“These top farms will not release wines that will damage their reputation,” she said. “Smoke taint is something real – grapes absorb the smoke into the thin waxy layer that is there to protect the grape. I have not heard of removing it, though I know that as a winemaker you can work with it. Think coffee Pinotage, where the flavour is not from smoke taint, but from oak barrels being exposed to flame. As a winemaker it is possible to work with the flavour, unless it is extreme. But I think the physical loss which translates to financial loss to replace equipment or a completely ruined vineyard is of far greater concern than the possible taint from smoke in the wine.”
The good news, said Schäfer, was that there was not an immediate threat to farm worker employment, although in the long term jobs could be on the line if indebted farmers exited the industry. In order to qualify for additional funding from the national treasury, however, the province must be declared a disaster area by Cabinet. Thereafter, Treasury will determine the budget for assistance. Cabinet has declared droughts in five provinces: Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and the Free State. Until then, the Western Cape is reliant on its own budget. Provisionally, a budget of around R1.5 million has been made available to support individual farmers. Financial support will be given to 30 qualifying smallholder grain farmers who have lost more than 50% of their crop, as well as to their workers. Recovery, Schäfer said, would not be fast, as some affected regions could take years to recover.
In order to grow massive amounts of corn and soybeans, two crops at the center of the U.S. food system, farmers in the Midwest typically apply hundreds of pounds of fertilizer on every acre they farm. This practice allows food companies to produce, and consumers to consume, a lot of relatively cheap food.
But that fertilizer can leach through soil and wash off land, polluting our drinking water, destroying our fishing rivers, and turning a Connecticut-sized chunk of the Gulf of Mexico into an oxygen-depleted hypoxic zone, suffocating aquatic life.
Despite environmental groups, non-profit organizations, and the government pressuring farmers in the Midwest to clean up their act, this multi-billion dollar problem has continued to fester for decades. Now some of the world’s wealthiest food companies are concerned about how it could hurt their bottom lines, and they are beginning to join the effort.
“No parent wants to give their kid a glass of milk in the morning that may be linked to these issues,” said Brooke Barton, senior program director for the water program at Ceres. “The biggest risk for these companies is their reputational risk of being associated with toxic algae and hypoxia.”
Ceres helps some of the biggest investment groups understand the environmental risks associated with the companies in which they invest, and has recently turned its attention to the threat of water scarcity caused, in part, by pollution from the agriculture industry.
Fearing a potential backlash from customers, companies like Coke, Nestle, General Mills, and Unilever, maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, are beginning to pressure farmers to reduce their contribution to water pollution.
Unilever, which needs a lot of soybean oil to produce its Hellmann’s mayo, launched Sustainable Soy in partnership with the Iowa Department of Agriculture, Archer Daniels Midland, and the non-profit organization, Practical Farmers of Iowa. The campaign for Sustainable Soy comes complete with an advertising campaign featuring the wholesomeness of Unilever’s soybean farmers. The company hopes to enroll 250 farmers and 285,000 acres of Iowa cropland by the end of the year.
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture has guidelines and a certification process for “organic,” no such program is in place to clarify what it means for a farm or a food product to be “sustainable.” Unilever, which has a sustainable agriculture code (pdf) that outlines practices it expects its farmers to adhere to, said for them, it boils down to “continuous improvement.”
“How can they get better yields? How can they use less fertilizer? How can they just better overall improve their practices?” said Stefani Millie, a senior manager for sustainability at Unilever’s U.S. division.
On the path towards improvement, there’s always a first step. For farmers in the Sustainable Soy program, it’s the very basic step of figuring out what they’re doing that could be contributing to the problem.
To convince farmers to share their farming practices, which they protect like a trade secret, Unilever is offering them an extra ten cents for each bushel of soybeans they grow. In exchange, farmers report things like how much fertilizer they spray, what kind, and when. Unilever lays this private information on top of public information about the land’s soil type, proximity to streams and rivers, and the slope of their hills. The result is an environmental footprint of each one of the farmers’ fields.
Though the farmers and their land remain anonymous, Unilever shares this information with the entire group, which allows farmers to see how the fields on their farm compare and how their farm as a whole stacks up against their neighbors’. The result is a little friendly competition that, Millie said, could lead farmers to invest in improvements.
“They can look and see that maybe they’ve got one field that’s using more Nitrogen. And they can go back and say, “Why is this different from my neighbors?” Millie said. “Hopefully it will trigger some of those thoughts and have them investigate to continue to improve their practices.”
Craig Pfantz, who farms more than 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans in State Center, Iowa, signed up when Unilever launched Sustainable Soy three years ago.
“I like it,” Pfantz said. “What got me into it? To be honest? The ten cent premium.”
Now, he says the knowledge he’s gained is more valuable. For instance, Unilever’s environmental footprints of his fields have given him a clearer picture of his farm’s “problem spots.”
Rounding a corner covered in seven-foot tall stalks, Pfantz’s pickup dips into a valley and then climbs a slope. At the top, he idles his truck in the middle of the road, leans against his steering wheel and points through the rain-spattered windshield towards a steep hill covered in forest green soybeans.
“You get a combine on that kind of slope and you’ll wonder, “what am I even doing here?” Pfantz said. “It probably shouldn’t even be farmed.”
Hills like this are prone to erosion. During heavy rains, they wash away fertile topsoil along with the phosphorus Pfantz sprays on the ground to fertilize the crop. Despite utilizing a number of conservation practices—no-till, side-dressing his nutrients, terracing, and grass waterways to slow down the rain—his rolling ground is still vulnerable to washing away.
That’s a financial loss for Pfantz, who spent money on the fertilizer that runs downstream. There’s also the long term cost of the quality of his soil deteriorating, jeopardizing the value of the land which he’ll eventually pass down to future Pfantz generations.
He thinks out loud for a moment, considering what it would take to convert these patches of ground back into small grains, maybe even pasture. But it doesn’t make economic sense.
“It boils down to profit,” Pfantz shrugs. “The whole agricultural system has been developed around corn and soybeans, so we have to make what we have work.”
Pfantz, committed to reducing his environmental footprint, is signing up for the second step offered to farmers in the Sustainable Soy program. This year, he’ll plant a cover crop of cereal rye on his most vulnerable ground. The crop, which he’ll plant after harvesting his corn and soybeans this fall, will spend the winter soaking up extra nitrogen and holding down his phosphorus and soil.
For the next three years, Sustainable Soy will help Pfantz pay for this conservation practice. After that, he’ll have to foot the bill himself. But, Pfantz believes it’ll be worth it.
“You have to look at cover crops as a long term investment—like putting money in the bank,” he said. “You’ll maintain the sustainability of the land which will make it productive for future generations.”
While Pfantz is making some tangible improvements on his farm, there’s a difference between real progress and good PR for the food company pushing him in this direction.
“Ultimately for this to be credible with consumers,” said Brooke Barton from Ceres, “The companies need to show that there are real changes over time in production impacts. Water quality improvements, soil health improvements, this is the end game.”
To really have an impact on water pollution in the Midwest, companies will need to push more farmers from information gathering to action. And just as farmers react to a little coaxing from companies to do a better a job—companies react to pressure from consumers.
TANZANIA and other African countries have expressed concern over the European Union’s proposal to recycle products containing toxic flame retardants into new products such as children’s toys, food containers and soft furnishings.
“We do not want toxic chemicals recycled into toys for African children and we do not think EU children should be playing with them either,” said Prof Jamidu Kitima from Tanzania in a statement made available to this newspaper.
Prof Kitima, the Chairman of Agenda for Environment and Responsible Development- AGENDA, said at a UN meeting of chemicals treaties in Geneva, Switzerland recently that Africa is already receiving e-waste from all over the world under different disguises.
“If the EU proposed standards are adopted, they would increase our toxic burden,” warned Prof Kitima in the wake of the EU push of dangerous clean-up standards for three toxic flame retardant chemicals widely used in building insulation, upholstery and electronics. All three toxic chemicals are listed in the Stockholm Convention for global elimination.
They are ubiquitous in the environment globally and can disrupt human hormone systems, creating potential adverse effects on the development of the nervous system and children’s IQ.
The EU proposal will allow toxic recycled products to be used by EU consumers and then exported to developing countries as waste, transferring the toxic burden from richer countries to poor countries where the capacity to deal with contaminated waste is limited and where they will potentially add to health problems and hamper poverty reduction.
Jindrich Petrlik from Arnika Association in Czech Republic said, “As an EUbased public interest NGO we find it shameful to see the EU violating the integrity of the Stockholm Convention and putting economic interests before human health and the environment. This is poisoning the circular economy.”
Follow Alive2Green on Social Media