Trees, cows, sugar and 4 million people: water security in the uMngeni river basin
So what can be done? A recent study tour visited the uMngeni basin to see how the forestry and agriculture sectors can work together with other businesses, government, engineers, civil society organisations and conservationists to better manage precious water resources.
Over five days, participants from 17 countries saw examples of better farming and forestry practices that use water more efficiently and help to maintain the ecosystems that are crucial for supplying clean water. These include forest and sugar plantations where wetland areas have been restored, and dairy farms where new techniques for improving soil health have more than halved the amount of water needed for irrigation.
The tour was organised by the New Generation Plantations (NGP) platform, and hosted by WWF South Africa’s Mondi Wetlands Programme and pulp and packaging company Mondi. Set up by WWF in 2007, NGP brings together companies, government forest agencies and conservationists from around the world to explore, share and promote better ways of planning and managing plantations.
"Tree plantations are one of the major water users in these catchments, so water scarcity and quality is a business risk for Mondi and the forestry sector," said Brent Corcoran, Environmental Manager for Mondi South Africa Forests. "Therefore, it’s our sector’s responsibility to be part of the solution; hence Mondi's ongoing investment in WWF's Mondi Wetlands Programme."
"Plantations are only one part of the big picture," said NGP coordinator Luis Neves Silva. "This study tour was a fantastic opportunity to understand what other sectors are doing, to learn from and share with each other, and to see how we can work together to find solutions to major issues like water security."
The next NGP study tour will take place in China in June 2015.
Read a full account of the study tour here
The NGP platform is a place for sharing knowledge about good plantation practices and learning from experience, through events such as study tours, workshops and conferences.
Over the coming decades, plantations are set to expand at a rapid rate to meet growing demand for paper, timber and energy. While plantations can be controversial, the NGP concept suggests that well-managed plantations in the right places can take pressure off natural forests, work in harmony with natural ecosystems, and improve the welfare of local communities.
Find out more at www.newgenerationplantations.org