SIZA implemented the Environmental Second-Party Verification programme as part of its drive towards continuous improvement and to manage environmental risks within the agricultural sector. With the vision of enabling South African agriculture to be a global leader in sustainability and environmental stewardship, the programme was developed with the purpose to evaluate and report on good environmental practices. By evaluating the current practices of farms and focusing on maintaining the environment, the programme will assist management to implement sustainable practices across the four cornerstones of the environment namely soil; water; energy, materials & waste; and biodiversity.

As the development of sustainable business practices lends itself to efficient operations and saving of costs, sustainable agriculture requires the efficient utilization of soil, water, materials, and energy, while simultaneously taking care of the environment. The Environmental Second-Party Verification programme will therefore assist management to establish comprehensive management systems, manage risk and to improve on key performance indicators across the four cornerstones of the environment.

Soil – The verification process can help farmers to manage the risks related to soil degradation (such as erosion, compaction, and salinisation) which will help to conserve this finite resource without which we cannot farm. Furthermore, the implementation of soil health improving practices (such as cover crops, returning crop residues to field, and increasing the organic matter of soil) can help to increase soil health over the long term. Analysing soil and plant nutrient values will also ensure that only the needed amounts of fertilisers are applied, which in turn will reduce input costs and eliminate the risks for over-fertilization and pollution.

Water – With agriculture being a water-intensive industry, the verification process will assist management to stay up to date and compliant with legislative requirements regarding water usage and to improve the efficiency with which irrigation water is used. Calculating the water-use efficiency (WUE) of a crop, i.e. the amount of water used per kilogramme of crop produced, is one of the easiest ways to quantify how well farms are managing their water. This will help to identify areas where more precision irrigation practices may be necessary.

Energy, Materials & Waste – As energy usage is one of the major contributors to climate change, the verification process will assist management to identify activities within the business that are energy intensive and to implement energy conservation strategies. The implementation of such strategies will not only help to combat the effects of climate change, but will also reduce direct energy costs (electricity, fuel, and fertilizer) for farms. The efficient management of waste on farms is not always an easy task. During the verification process, farms will receive assistance on what can be practically implemented on their own sites to be compliant with legal requirements, but also to ensure that waste is managed as efficiently as possible to reduce environmental risks and pollution.

Biodiversity – As South African citizens, we have a responsibility towards each other and our environment to make sure that areas of critical ecosystem function are protected at all times. The verification process will assist management to identify areas of conservation and what can be done to protect these areas. The restoration and conservation of such areas will help to enhance indigenous biodiversity populations on the property, which holds many benefits is terms of integrated pest management. Prioritizing areas for invasive alien plant (IAP) clearing will also form part of the verification process.  The benefits of efficient IAP clearing and management includes improving water availability in the area and reducing fire risks that are associated with high densities of IAPs.

Since the implementation of the SIZA Environmental Second-Party Verification programme two years ago, it has already illustrated progress and successes where farmers have started to focus on measuring and monitoring their inputs. This has helped them to identify areas of improvement and to react proactively in managing their environmental risks. The SIZA environmental second-party verification programme is a win-win recipe for everyone involved.