Some Western Cape farmers despair a mounting water crisis is drying up their profits.
Several Swartland residents have labelled this dry season as their worst since 1952.
Agri-Wes Cape expects this harvest to be lacklustre at best, given consistently low rainfall over the past year.
The hard, dusty soil of Enkelfontein does not look arable.
Patches of dried grass are dotted along fields sporting ground the consistency of powder.
Hopefield wheat farmer Olivier Slabber is worried.
He told Eyewitness News that he usually earns about R10,000 per hectare, with the farm’s operational costs amounting to about R6,000 per hectare.
This year however, Slabber is only making R3,500 per hectare, that means a loss of at least R3 million.
“Financially the impact is a lot bigger. There are bills that need to be paid and animals that need to be fed.”
Farmer Gideon Melck is in the same dilemma and shared Slabber’s sentiments.
“Each year is a challenge and this year there’s a much bigger one.”
The National Agricultural Marketing Council warns food prices are expected to increase nationwide, in the coming weeks.
The drought in several parts of South Africa has resulted in some provinces, including KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape, being declared disaster areas.
At the same time, the amount of wheat produced in the Western Cape, considered to be the country’s breadbasket, has reached record lows.
Darling wheat farmer Andre Kirstens cautions that consumers are not immune to the challenges facing those in the grain-producing sector.
Agricultural economist Christo Joubert agrees, labeling it as supply and demand.
Farmers can’t ramp up their output when there’s no water.
“When there’s crisis with water, then there will be a crisis with production of commodities that go into food stuff and especially on our poorest.”
Joubert says vegetable and wheat farmers along the West Coast have harvested less than one third of their average output, placing enormous strain on the grain industry.
Some struggling wheat farmers are pleading with the Western Cape government to intervene in order to reduce the knock-on effect on consumers.
The current water crisis has contributed to sagging harvests following months of poor rainfall.
Provincial Agriculture, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde, has been meeting with West Coast farmers to find ways to manage scare resources.
November usually sees the Swartland’s mammoth storage units fill up with around 17,000 tonnes of wheat, each.
Now, however, the Koperfontein silos contain only 5,000 tonnes.
Melck wants government to help.
“I hope government will see the urge for feed, the value of the stubble is very, very poor.”
“We could have areas where we can help with animal feed, those areas where we can coordinate.”
Provincial authorities have also been discussing alternative practices which farmers may implement in an effort to adapt to climate change.
But the MEC has emphasised local government can’t alter output levels or change yields.
Having long since fled KwaZulu Natal and the Free State, fat, passing clouds scatter a handful of raindrops over Gauteng like rich men throwing coins at the poor. As the reality of full-blown drought settles in across much of the country, attention has turned to what we can do to mitigate the damage: building and repairing, restricting and cajoling, introducing new technologies, and encouraging new mindsets. ANDREA TEAGLE asks the water experts wherein the solutions to our water woes lie.
Droughts aside, South Africa is normally a dry country. At 464mm, our average yearly rainfall is about half the global average of 860mm. And, unlike in other parts of the world, our cities were built around mining, not water. Because of this, says CEO of the Water Research Commission, Dhesigen Naidoo, “We generally have fairly good adaptation measures for dry spells. But what we are currently experiencing is not just a dry spell. To varying degrees, these five provinces, and this country, are experiencing a full-scale drought.”
To make things a little worse, the drought is taking place within a prolonged dry spell coinciding with El Niño, meaning that really good rains (a so-called “wet period”) might be five to seven years away. Climate-forecasting models predict that rainfall is going to become increasingly variable. So, we’re not just out to survive one drought, we’re out to adjust to a dryer future. Long-term measures include the construction of more storage facilities, including another large dam in Lesotho, Naidoo says.
First, though, we need short-term measures to relieve the water system pressure. The biggest of these is the so-called ‘War on Leaks’. Seven billion rand is lost a year through leaking pipes and taps, and collapsing infrastructure, Minister of Water Affairs, Nomvula Mokonyane, said on Sunday, referring to South Africa’s 37% non-billed water. That 37% of our water is lost to leakages has been repeated numerously over the last few days. This is inaccurate. Non-revenue water – the difference between the volume of water put into a water distribution system and the volume that is billed to customers – has three components. In addition to leaks, it comprises commercial loss (metering inaccuracies and water theft), and unbilled authorised consumption (free water given to certain groups). Water lost to leakages make up 25% of non-revenue water (NRW), or 9.3% of the country’s total consumption. Sounds a little less dramatic when put that way. For comparison’s sake, the World Bank estimates that NRW averages between 40 and 50% in developing countries.
Still, Naidoo argues, “That’s 7.2 billion lost in the system that could fund a whole range of measures to get us to a better place.”
And 9.3% of water lost through leakages, is still water that we can’t afford to lose. Minister Mokonyane said that R350-million would be allocated to drought related projects, and that a countrywide project would be launched to train 1500 youngsters to repair taps and pipes in their communities. As well as infrastructure upgrading, rainwater harvesting and water desalination plants are already being commissioned.
Of course, we like the sound of the War on Leaks, because leakages are not our fault, and they can be fixed without our having to change our own consumption. However, individual water use, is another important saving measure, both in the short and long term. Although it makes up a comparatively small part of the country’s water use (see chart below), household water is clean and drinkable, and thus more valuable than the water used for agricultural irrigation.
Data source: Department of Water Affairs, 2013
“We are flushing drinking water down the toilet. We are bathing in drinking water. We are washing our cars in drinking water,” points out Rhodes University Ecologist, Professor Jay O’Keefe. “All the piped water is drinking water quality, and that’s crazy.”
Naidoo agrees. Rather than change the whole system, however, the Water Research Commission (WRC) is focusing on sanitation, in other words, the water involved in waste management.
“We’re…using sometimes in excess of 9 litres of very clean, pristine drinking water to move 200g of human waste one metre away from the toilet, into the sewerage system. After doing this for 2,000 years, we need to start doing this in much smarter ways,” Naidoo adds.
Cue what Naidoo calls a “new sanitation paradigm”. The WRC is working with international partners, including the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation, to achieve a global shift towards more water-efficient waste-management technologies, and new way of thinking about waste management. New sanitation would see current toilet systems replaced “pour flush systems”, which use around half a litre of water, dry-waste sanitation, and bio-waste systems, which use no water at all, and “pour flush systems”, which use half-a-litre of water. Waste infrastructure would be decentralised, located much closer to households. In addition, alternative systems could be set up provide households with grey water, rather than drinking water, for sanitation. The real challenge, though, according to Naidoo, is persuading people to buy into the system.
“We’re locked into a technological infrastructure. We also have difficulty setting up an industry base to manufacture these new tools, because there’s a market for the old one…. We work within this current mindset of getting waste as far away from you as possible.”
If drinking water can be saved at the household level, the other area with huge potential for increased efficiencies is agriculture. Irrigation accounts for the 60% of South Africa’s water use. The agriculture sector accounts for 2.39% of total Gross Domestic Product, although the effect of drought on the sector has far larger economic spin-offs, with rising food prices expected to reverberate right through to the red meat sector. Driving some of that water use, of course, is a necessity. However, Professor O’Keefe says that, like most places in the world, much of South Africa’s irrigation remains inefficient.
“You could produce the same amount of food with much less water,” O’Keefe says, “but you’ve got to put a lot of initial investment into it.”
Tools available to increase efficiency in agriculture range from irrigation technologies – switching from wasteful flood irrigation systems to micro jet, and drip irrigation – to satellite technology, which enables farmers to better predict yields, and to act on floods and droughts before they strike. The development of drought and salt-resistant crops is another area being explored. Finally, there’s one last, untapped water mine, groundwater.
“Groundwater has the potential to provide 30% of our water needs, and we currently use about 78%,” says Naidoo. However, he emphasises that groundwater should be a supplementary water source, to be drawn on only when needed.
Just as overgrazing can destroy fertile land, groundwater needs to be allowed to replenish itself when good rains come, otherwise, its use will be short-lived. Although some action taken now – like immediate restrictions – might be emergency measures, they could also serve to kick-start South Africa into a more water-conscious and sustainable mindset. We’re not building a bridge to carry us over this drought; we’re finding ways of learning to live within it, so that we can thrive in dryer tomorrow.
“We have to use the crises to get into a much better water secure space in the future,” says Naidoo. “South Africa must be a net producer of solutions [around new water management and new water sanitation] – not only for ourselves, but there’s a global market to supply.” DM
PROMOTING entrepreneurship among rural women, Provincial Treasury, in partnership with the Pietermaritzburg Business Chamber (PCB), Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Msunduzi municipality last Friday opened a village market for 300 rural businesses at the Royal Showgrounds.
The market, co-ordinated by KwaZulu-Natal Financial Literacy (KZNFLA), has a spaza shop, 25 stalls selling fresh produce, handmade garments, craft and processed products. Prior to the market opening women exhibitors were given training on running businesses.
KZNFLA Trust chairperson Artwell Hlengwa said the exhibition, which will continue until 7 June, is aimed at reducing poverty by expanding social and economic opportunities for rural communities and empowering them to make informed financial decisions.
“Through this partnership we are touching the lives of our rural communities, as these women will share their knowledge and experience with their partners and families.
“In addition, they are also given a platform from which they can sell their produce,” he said. Vegetable farmers Hlaleleni Buthelezi and Nokukhanya Ntombela, who own Ixhiba Co-operative at Fundokuhle Secondary in Imbali, told Echo they appreciate the goverment’s initiative, as it gives them a platform to showcase their produce.
The co-op was founded in 2006 and produces tomatoes, spinach, chillies, beetroot, brinjil, green, red and yellow peppers, cucumber and lettuce.
Their current distribution areas include Mkondeni market, PCK Distributors and they also produce for the community.
Buthelezi said the co-op, with six members, was started seven years ago after realising that every living organism relies on agriculture.
“We all need the soil and we are heeding the government’s call of ‘one home and one garden’,” she said.
Buthelezi and Ntombela said while there are not enough job opportunities young people need to start such initiatives to survive.
Ntombela said: “Not everyone can be employed by the government and with agriculture one can never go wrong.
“It is good to be your own employer and we need young people who will carry on legacy, even when we die.”
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South Africa is facing water shortages after the worst drought since 1992 cut dam levels by 12 percent from a year earlier as most of the country enters its four-month dry season.
Drought in eastern and central South Africa around the turn of the year has slashed corn and sugar output and may trigger water shortages for homes and businesses. Weaker river flow also threatens water quality. South Africa is the 30th-driest nation on Earth, according to the government, which expects water demand to outstrip supply as early as 2025.
“Water will definitely be at a premium over the next few months,” said Sputnik Ratau, a spokesman for the Department of Water Affairs. Toward the end of the dry season “we will be in an even more dire situation in terms of available water.”
The country’s dams are 79.2 percent full this week, down from 90.1 percent a year earlier, according to data on the DWA’s website. Ratau didn’t know the last time dam levels were lower. Of the seven largest dams in South Africa and neighboring Lesotho, which also supplies water to the continent’s second-biggest economy, four have “low” or “moderately low” reserves, DWA data show.
The drought earlier this year was probably caused by El Nino, a global weather pattern that causes dry conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Anthony Turton, a professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at South Africa’s University of the Free State. Water quality may decline as rivers can’t flush away sewage and dilute toxic discharges from mines, he said.
“The balance of probability suggests that we can anticipate a severe drought in the near future,” Turton said in an e-mail. “Water restrictions are likely to be imposed.”
KwaZulu-Natal, home of most of South Africa’s sugar industry and an important tourist destination, is the worst affected province with dam levels down 17.5 percentage points. Reserves in the North West and Free State provinces are 14.6 and 10.7 percentage points lower than last year respectively, DWA figures show.
Average annual rainfall in South Africa is 495 millimeters, less than half the global average of 1,033 millimeters, according to the World Bank. The country also has high evaporation levels due to its warm, sunny climate.
“South Africa is a water-scarce country and we encourage people to conserve water as much as possible,” Ratau said. “The less prudent we are with water, the higher the risk of shortages this year.”
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Rehabilitation of parks
The Umtshezi Community Parks and Street Cleaning projects involve the rehabilitation of community parks and planting of trees in and around Umtshezi local municipality. The projects aim to restore, enhance and rehabilitate open spaces, thereby maximising measures towards pollution mitigation.
Through the Umtshezi Community Parks Project, the DEA will build parking bays, plant grass and provide general landscaping as well as ablution facilities. In addition, existing fencing to the parks will be refurbished.
The Umtshezi Street Cleaning Project, which is implemented as part of the Department’s Working for Waste Programme, the DEA is making a colossal contribution to the municipality to carry out basic solid waste management operations. These include collection and safe disposal of waste, hence the purchasing of skip and concrete bins.
Thomson urged members of the community, as beneficiaries of these projects, to take ownership of the projects by ensuring that they are kept clean and well maintained.
The KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government has allocated R12.060 billion to spend on various infrastructure projects in the province during 2015/16 financial year.
“The province is budgeting to spend R12.060 billion in 2015/16, R11.804 billion in 2016/17 and R12.196 billion in 2017/18 on various infrastructure projects. This equates to R36.060 billion over the 2015/16 MTEF,” said KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Finance, Belinda Scott.
Tabling the 2015/16 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) Budget at the Provincial Legislature on Tuesday, MEC Scott said the budget includes both equitable share and conditional grant funded infrastructure.
The key infrastructure projects over the 2015/16 MTEF include transport, where the Department of Transport will spend R20.594 billion over the 2015/16 MTEF on numerous infrastructure projects.
In 2015/16, the department will continue with various construction and maintenance projects as part of Operation KuShunquthuli and the African Renaissance Roads Upgrading Programme (ARRUP), to focus on road infrastructure development in rural areas.
The Department of Health’s infrastructure budget over the 2015/16 has been allocated R4.294 billion. This will include various projects such as a R460 million construction of new 500 beds at the regional hospital in Pixley ka Seme Hospital, and R80 million construction of new 192 bed medical ward in Ngwelezane Hospital, among others.
An amount of R6.909 billion has been allocated to the Department of Education to spend on building of new classrooms and ablutions in various districts.
MEC Scott said the projects are linked to transport routes, proximity to schools, clinics and other social facilities.
“Some of the key programmes include the Informal Settlement Upgrade Programme, the Rural housing Programme, the Emergency Housing Programme, the Integrated Residential Housing Programme, as well as the Rectification Programme and Enhanced Extended Discount Benefit Scheme (EEDBS).
“In 2015/16, the department will continue to implement these housing programmes and the outputs expected to be achieved include 23 233 housing units constructed and 14 225 beneficiaries approved,” MEC Scott told members of the provincial legislature.
The Department of Education received the largest portion of the provincial budget, while the Department of Health received the second largest portion.
The budget allocation for Education over the MTEF is R42.142 billion in 2015/2016, R44.210 billion in 2016/2017 and R46.488 billion in 2017/2018.
The budget allocation over the MTEF for the Department of Health is R32.982 billion, R34.742 billion and R36.874 billion over the 2015/16.
Source: All Africa
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