Food and water are becoming critical resources. With rising global population, urbanisation and an expanding middle class, demand for food is expected to rise by 35% by 2030, while the demand for water will rise by 40%. South Africa and the Western Cape are experiencing significant water stress and agriculture, as a key industry sector in the province, is a major water user. At our recent Sustainability Forum on Managing Food and Water Scarcity and Security, we discussed the implications of water scarcity on food security and the several projects that our corporate members are embarking on to support sustainable agriculture.

We heard from Dr Dirk Troskie, Director at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, on their strategy which includes supporting the provincial agricultural sector to maintain export production for the next five years. The Western Cape accounts for 49% of South Africa’s agricultural exports and the Department also plans to increase sustainable agricultural production by at least 10% and facilitate a 20% increase in skills development over the next 10 years. Dr Troskie emphasised the role of disruptive technologies and innovation to create solutions in agriculture and gave the example of the GM modification of the spider web gene in silkworms to produce silk with the strength of steel and Kevlar.

Next we heard from Christine Colvin, WWF’s freshwater specialist who mentioned that South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world with a large population. She emphasised the current state of our dam levels with  the Western Cape levels at 72% this year compared to 92% last year as the dry season starts. Christine mentioned that South Africa’s water risks include a lack of sanitation impacting on water quality as 4 million households do not have sanitation; an infrastructure that needs R700 billion over the next decade; and water regulation and policies still being an issue. She gave a good example of what business can achieve through effective collaboration such as that between Marks & Spencer, Woolworths, WWF and fruit farmers on water stewardship which led to high tech irrigation and minimal water usage for export level fruit production.

Fortunately some of our members are already embarking on programmes to support farmers and sustainable agriculture. We heard from Jan Coetzee about SAB’s Better Barley Better Beer programme which supports sustainable farming practices amongst South Africa’s barley and emerging farmers. Nedbank has also invested R8,3 million into WWF-SA’s Sustainable Agriculture programme since 2012 which includes sustainable agriculture and financial products to enable farmers. Finally, we heard from Vodacom about their mAgriculture solution and Connected Farmer mobile application which is supporting farmers and the agricultural sector in Africa.

Water scarcity and the impact on agricultural production are key issues for the Western Cape and South Africa and it is encouraging to see our corporate members from a variety of sectors making an impact on sustainable agriculture.