Minister van Rensburg's Address to the Water Conservation Associations | Western Cape Government


Minister van Rensburg's Address to the Water Conservation Associations

9 May 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, water is the life source of our agricultural sector. This invaluable source is under severe pressure. Agriculture is seen as the largest single user of fresh water, and the ever-increasing needs of urbanisation and industrial expansion is increasing the competition for this scarce resource. Electricity is also a scarce and expensive resource for agriculture. But we can generate more electricity. We cannot make water.

It is therefore absolutely essential to protect what we have as best we can. In the Western Cape, we have two large rivers: the Berg River, which is approximately 300 km long and the Breede River, approximately 200 km in length. When we include the various tributaries, it amounts to more than 1 000 km of waterways. Double that when we take into account there is a river bank on both sides of the river. These two rivers sustain a large portion of our province's agricultural output.

This agricultural output is threatened by alien invaders which choke the life out of our rivers. It is estimated that alien vegetation occupies 10 million hectares of land in South Africa - this is five times the size of the Kruger National Park. If we were to eradicate these aliens and allow indigenous plants to re-establish, we will save enough water to produce 2.5 million tons of maize under irrigation on 330 000 hectares of land. This equates to 50 kg of maize for every South African.

In the Western Cape, we need the water being soaked up by alien vegetation to increase our production of fruit and wine grapes so that we can increase our volumes for the export market. A 5% growth in agricultural export will create an additional 23 000 jobs in our economy.

We also need healthy river ecosystems in order to prevent flood damage. Indigenous vegetation on the riparian greatly assists the free flow of our rivers and prevents erosion from flooding during intense rain spells. A single flood in 2008 in the Western Cape resulted in R1 billion in damages to agricultural infrastructure and crop losses. More than 80% of these damages were on our river banks.

But clearing aliens from river courses is difficult and expensive work. Clearing a hectare of riparian land can cost anything from R2 000 up to R20 000. A hectare represents 100 m along the river bank and 100 m inland. This exercise needs to be conducted on both sides of the river. It is also not once-off work. Without the correct follow-up work being done, it is often a wasted exercise as aliens simply take over again.

I am therefore extremely pleased with the Memorandum of Understanding we are focusing on today. Three parties have joined forces in order to address the challenges the Breede River is facing. The Breede Overberg Catchment Management Association (BOCMA), together with my department, as well as the Wolseley Water Users Association, are working together to make things better in this regard.

BOCKMA is providing financing of R800 000. My department is providing the expertise and management skills. The Wolseley Water Association is providing the labour to do the actual work.

This approach is pioneering a model we want to implement in all other projects of this nature. This work is simply too complex and expensive for a single entity to manage successfully.

The work does not end with the clearing of aliens. Without a proper rehabilitation plan, aliens will simply return. My department took the lead in revitalising the Kluitjieskraal Nursery in Wolseley. Together with Breedekloof Wine and Tourism (NPO), we are currently supplying the farming community with 30 000 indigenous plants and 12 000 indigenous trees annually.

The Cape Wineland District Municipality as well as Distell are also partnering with the department in order to expand this project.

Many different role players were mentioned today. Each one doing its bit in order revitalise our rivers. This kind of co-operation is the future of the Western Cape Province. It allows us to do so much more. Maybe we will in the not-so-distant future be able to farm with disease-free buffalo in the Kluitjieskraal Wetlands once it has been rehabilitated.