Water is a finite resource, meaning that it cannot be readily replaced by natural means at a pace quick enough to keep up with consumption. Water conservation is an issue that hits close to home for South Africans as our climate is classified as semi-arid, and with an average rainfall of 464mm per year, it ranks South Africa as one of the top 30 driest countries in the world. Due to the sensitivity of our climate, we have also been one of the first countries to experience the effects of climate change on our weather, causing the recent and ongoing draughts and floods in South Africa. These events are not isolated and affect vast areas of the country — areas that are also responsible for producing a large portion of food in South Africa. With an increase in extreme weather events, the conservation of water as one of the building blocks of life is essential.

Current water levels in South African agriculture

According to the National Business Initiative (NBI), the agricultural industry uses roughly 60% of the available water in South Africa. Therefore, it is no surprise that it is one of the first to feel the effects of the lack and mismanagement of water. The incorrect management of water and wastewater can lead to a whole host of environmental and social issues, including water shortages, soil erosion, aquifer salinisation, and pollution, all of which affect the ability of farmers to produce crops sustainably and cost-effectively.

To effectively reduce the pressure placed on our water resources, we need to mitigate and reduce the risks associated with improper water management whilst encouraging the continuous improvement of management practices. The first step towards achieving sustainable water use is by measuring water practices and using quantifiable data to make informed decisions surrounding water. This allows growers to compare the performance of different crops or blocks and achieve the highest yields with the least amount of water used. The second step is to incorporate the data and knowledge of the nature and volumes of water used and wastewater produced into a water management plan that is regularly reviewed. This approach allows management to have an in-depth understanding of the impact on the environment and continuously improve and monitor the efficiency of the practices implemented by the business.

The mismanagement of water and wastewater by one person has the potential to affect whole communities downstream; therefore, every person needs to do their part in ensuring South Africa’s water future. Every drop counts when it comes to sustainable water management, including safe and appropriate treatment and disposal of wastewater generated. The SIZA Environmental audit, along with the SIZA Digital Recordkeeping Programme, provides the guidance, traceability, and framework for producers to do their part to ensure a sustainable water future for all in South Africa.