More irrigation farming needed

South Africa’s employment growth and economic momentum could be at stake if irrigation farms are not expanded.

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Speaking at the Standard Bank Water Imbizo in Johannesburg, Prof Mohammed Karaan, dean of the Agri-Sciences faculty at Stellenbosch University, said creating a million jobs in agriculture isn’t a choice, but an imperative.

“We all agree on the expansions of irrigation and development of rural areas, but we need to implement ideas to get the momentum going that will ensure economic prosperity,” he added.

Dr Gerhard Backeberg, from the Water Research Commission, noted that currently 1,3 million hectares are under irrigation in SA. To this a further 300 000ha could be added. “However,” he said, “we must make better use of rain water and produce food where rain falls.”

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Commenting on improving water-use efficiency, Prof MC Laker said enhancing irrigation scheduling was of the utmost importance.

“Millions have been spent on studies to improve irrigation, but only 18% of farmers have read these reports and use the results of the research. This, despite that fact that farmers can save up to 40% of their water if they implemented the proposals.”

Laker also said that if farmers did not give any attention to the soil’s physical condition, then irrigation improvements would be futile, as the water will “just run off”.

Marna de Lange, SA’s representative at the International Water Management Institute, said, “If we could secure water either through irrigation schemes or rain water harvesting we could get food gardens going that will ensure household food security and an income for the region.”

However, she noted that markets needed to be developed as well. “Hunger is a big pull factor to increase production, but it’s satisfied very quickly and then markets must be ready to take up the excess produce and provide an income.”

Twitter: @Lindi83