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SA cannot allow its best agricultural land to be dug up for coal – academic

Aug 27 2019 08:50
Carin Smith

South Africa cannot allow its best agricultural land to be dug up and used for coal, according to Mike Muller, adjunct professor at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance.

"We know in the Upper Vaal River area mines are causing destruction, not just to land, but also to the water used for the land," he said at the Agri SA Water Symposium in Somerset West on Monday.

"Why did government keep on giving coal mining licences in good water areas? This issue needs to be addressed."

Muller said he had identified key water security issues already in 2009 and they remain relevant today.

These include - pollution, the need for bulk infrastructure, poor supply of services and not using opportunities which still exist.

Furthermore, population growth and climate change will impact how SA can deal with these water resource challenges.

"The unpredictability of climate change and of politics are seen as some of the biggest challenges by South African farmers," said Muller.

"It is important to remember that the goal of water management is to address many issues, of which agriculture needs is just one."

At the same time, he pointed out, it is no good just to produce agricultural products if one is not sure there is a market to sell it to. He cautioned that a lot of agricultural production in the world could in future come from countries where it is easier to farm than in SA.

"By easier I mean easier in terms of politics and in terms of the climate. There are options in the world. The way those options, of where to produce, are used will impact us here in SA," he said.

At the same time, he foresees increased competition for water in SA. This demands greater water use efficiency and agriculture will have to do more with that which is available.

In his view, what is required is further intensification and focus on the business of farming – producing what is of more value, using less water.

"Value will be measured in social terms and not just financially. Value will be about jobs and economic inclusion and not just about more production and profit," he said.

"Whatever we do for the future of water must be done for all people, including small scale farmers."

Mary Jean Gabriel of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said the solutions to SA's water challenges do exist.

"Government is a slow learner. It has taken 20 odd years to learn about these mining issues, but currently a mine water management policy is being developed," she said.

water  |  sustainability  |  agribusiness  |  agriculture
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