Gauteng’s water crisis now threatens food sustainability

Clockwise from the top left: Agri SA water scientist Gregory Smith, Agri Gauteng president Dr Willem Pretorius, Andrew Barker, chairman of the Klipriviersberg Sustainability Association and Anelile Gibixego from the Mapungubwe Institute. Photos: Supplied

Gauteng’s water sources continue to be under threat, warned Agri Gauteng president Dr Willem Pretorius at its Young Farmer webinar presented yesterday in partnership with Grobank.

Not only is water wastage of particular concern, all of the province’s rivers and dams are polluted due to a ballooning of urbanisation draining its resources. Despite this, a R100 billion plan is being rolled out to build 30 new mega cities, which ultimately aims to deliver more than 800 000 houses spread across five development corridors.

Pretorius said these water challenges also have dire implications for agriculture and the sustainability of food security in Gauteng. Farmer-led irrigation is an added bone of contention, as well as the impact of climate change on water supply.

Grobank CEO Bennie van Rooy. Photo: Supplied

In his presentation, Grobank chief executive Bennie van Rooy said that water worries also impact the bank’s decision to financially support agricultural projects.

The bank based its lending practices to the sector on either collateral in the form of farms, farm property or loose items on the farm, or a credit assessment based on an operation’s ability to meet its debt repayments with a sufficient, sustainable cashflow.

To facilitate cashflow, production risks can be mitigated by looking at the entire value chain of an agricultural project. Van Rooy said, “The availability of water will clearly play a big part in our ability as financiers or banks to fund agricultural projects without necessarily land and land tenure. To ensure certainty of water and availability of water, we need to add the fact that there can be some sort of technical support as well as mentoring and coaching taking place to mitigate further production risks.”

Omri van Zyl, executive director of Agri SA. Photo: Supplied

Omri van Zyl, the executive director of Agri SA, analysed the risks in the agricultural sector. He believes the covid-19 pandemic coupled by a Moody’s downgrade of the country’s credit rating and the Land Bank’s junk status endangers the sustainability of the country. “It is something that is going to take a while for us to live through.”

He added, though, that the sector was fortunate to operate during the protracted coronavirus lockdown because it was deemed an essential service. “Hopefully covid-19 will push the reset button, and going forward we will hopefully see less political interference, but more private sector involvement in the economy.”

Other webinar speakers included Lance Quidding, CEO of the Integrated Aquaculture Group in Hekpoort, Gauteng. He reiterated that aquaculture presents great opportunities, particularly in the light of water pressures and an increasing focus on more sustainable farming.

“Proactively protect, promote and enhance the biodiversity value that the southern areas of Johannesburg can offer,” urged Andrew Barker, chairman of the Klipriviersberg Sustainability Association. The association protects, promotes and enhances the value of the natural assets and biodiversity of the Klipriviersberg region through appropriate sustainable economic and social development.

Dangers of irrigation in agriculture

Dr Johan Malherbe from the Agricultural Research Council’s Institute for Soil, Climate and Water reminded webinar attendees that irrigation in agriculture remains one of the heaviest users of available water, totalling at least 60%.

Rita-Theresa Du Plessis Van der Mescht. Photo: Food For Mzansi

Furthermore, Gregory Smith, a water scientist with Agri SA, said, “Water is a shared, finite resource. It is critical for every part of the economy. Agriculture is the world’s largest user of water, but also the most dependent on water, and the most impacted by water shortages.”

Food For Mzansi editor Dawn Noemdoe led the webinar’s “Young water warriors” panel discussion. Participants included Anelile Gibixego from the Mapungubwe Institute, Dr Aluwani Nemukula from Alunem Holdings, Rita-Theresa du Plessis Van der Mescht from Shirita Boerdery, and Niel Louw from the Young Water Professionals in Gauteng Committee.

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