Better environmental management practices integral to SA agriculture | WWF South Africa

Better environmental management practices integral to SA agriculture

Posted on 03 June 2010
Agricultural practices in the Grasslands

In celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity and World Environment Week, The World Wide Fund for Nature today unveiled its vision for Living Farms: An agricultural sector which farms in balance with nature. This vision is supported by two new products available from WWF. The Living Farms Reference, a comprehensive compilation of current legislation and better practices already demonstrated in many of the leading agricultural sectors and an overview report of the current status quo entitled Agriculture Facts and Trends, South Africa.


“Amidst the global concern of rising food insecurity, rapidly depleting resources and biodiversity in retreat, South Africa needs to pay particular attention to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of its agricultural industries, and today we celebrate our initial successes, the role of innovative farmers and an emerging trend towards farming in balance with nature” explained Mark Botha, head of the Living Lands unit at WWF.


The WWF report provides a snapshot of the overwhelming evidence that better environmental practices are central to ensuring ongoing productive agriculture in South Africa and to supporting food security in the long term.


“Better environmental practices are also crucial to limiting negative impacts on people’s health and in ensuring that critical resources like water are conserved. Our country’s limited water resources are severely threatened through (often illegal) over-abstraction as well as pollution from agricultural effluent, fertilizers and pesticides. Farming practices need to ensure that these natural systems, our catchments, rivers and wetlands are maintained  in a healthy and functioning state - in a state that one would be happy for one’s children to play in,” continues Botha. 


Healthy natural ecosystems underpin South Africa’s economy and support productive agriculture. There are superb examples of many agricultural industries that have already taken decisive steps to protect these systems. Unfortunately, though, expanding agriculture is often the reason that many such natural ecosystems are under threat. According to the latest Red Data list published by SANBI, one in every five plant species in South Africa is threatened through agricultural expansion. Climate change will further stress agricultural ecosystems and food production, while agriculture itself is responsible for significant contributions to greenhouse gases and therefore to the increasing problem of an unstable climate.  


Commercial farmers form the backbone of South Africa’s efforts to maintain food security and yet farming is one of the least supported and most difficult livelihoods in South Africa.  


“The South African agricultural sector is facing a huge challenge,” Botha explains. “In the near future, using the same finite land area, we will have to feed a lot more people. This, in spite of reduced water quality and availability. We will need to use less nitrogen and phosphorous and will have to drastically lower greenhouse gas emissions. All this while a globalised commodity market makes each farmer’s annual crop choice a gamble, where too few extension officers and researchers provide the new techniques or resource conservation training, and where rural livelihoods are ever more tenuous.”


“We need to celebrate the successes achieved to date through various biodiversity initiatives within the agricultural realm and better support our farmers to enable them to provide food in a socially just and environmentally responsible manner,” says Botha. “A key intervention is the WWF Living Farms Reference, which provides a comprehensive benchmark of current requirements for socio-economic and environmental compliance and better practice for sustainable farming.”


WWF’s Living Farm Reference is a step towards assisting farmers and key buyers in achieving better practices throughout the agriculture value chain from producers through to retailers, manufacturers and government.  


“This is a first in South Africa,” says Botha. “We set out to define a common language and understanding of and vision for what comprises a productive, well-managed farm, starting from a point of legal compliance. It took a year to create a harmonised master document for well-managed farms through a participatory process which included consultants, sector representatives, expert inputs, four large stakeholder workshops and an in-depth review.”

“We need to acknowledge the importance of South African agriculture and our collective ability to meet the challenges ahead through better practices and appropriate interventions. We trust that these reports will provide a foundation to making the necessary tools and advisory support available in recognition and support of this vital sector within South Africa.”

Agricultural practices in the Grasslands
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