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Sustainable agriculture
© WWF South Africa

Although agriculture is essential for South Africa’s future, poor farming practices have undesirable impacts on the well-being of people and nature. Therefore, empowering farmers with the necessary skills to contribute towards an environmentally sustainable future is vital to addressing the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change.

What is the issue?

Agriculture is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and water usage in South Africa. Some of the food we consume is from farms that fall within strategic water source areas. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the soils and biodiversity around these critical areas are conserved through sustainable farming methods.

However, our current agricultural practices are based on a high dependence and use of artificial fertilisers and chemicals to increase productivity and reduce pests and diseases. A type of intensive farming called monoculture also decreases long-term soil productiveness; creates soil erosion; affects the availability and quality of water; and contaminates delicate ecosystems. 

Due to lack of agricultural extension support in addressing these issues, many farmers in our country do not understand how to adapt and manage their farms in challenging conditions, particularly the smallholder farmers who are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. 

What are we doing?

WWF works with farmers in all scales of production, encouraging strong commitment to conserve the natural environment by farming in a way that is profitable for business, society and nature.

How do we do this?

WWF engages with farmers in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and southern Cape, helping them improve land use planning, better production and responsible farming practices. These include developing best practice guidelines and standards, and helping impact sectors understand what sustainable farming entails.
We also facilitate agroecology training with smallholder farmers, scaled up and linked to Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) standards and extension services. Solidaridad’s farming solution mobile application is one of the tools we co-developed and use to engage these farmers in sustainable farming practices, in return for securing market access of high-value horticulture chains.
Our programmes are aimed at catalysing, empowering and recognising the innovation within the South African agricultural economy and providing platforms for shared learning and market recognition.

Who do we work with?

WWF works with various agriculture sectors, industry associations, research and training partners, and corporates like Nedbank, Woolworths, and South African Breweries amongst others. We also facilitate strategic partnerships between government and private institutions that foster long-term ownership of some of the projects that our funding is able to initiate.

How did we start?

Due to rapid vineyard expansion in the early 2000s, WWF started a conservation and wine partnership to address the high levels of biodiversity loss in the Cape Floral Kingdom. Now known as WWF's Conservation Champions, committed wine farms are working to restore natural land and farm in harmony with nature.

By 2011, WWF started a sustainable agriculture programme – funded by Nedbank – to address the broader impacts of other areas of farming. This included fruit, sugar, beef, dairy and grain as priority sectors that have the most impact on ecosystem functioning in the priority conservation areas.

What are the big wins?
  1. Within a decade of working closely with wine farmers, WWF is proud that over 90% of South Africa’s wine industry now adheres to environmentally friendly farming practices. Consequently, the SA wine industry has obtained global recognition as leaders in the international wine industry for establishing a balance between nature and farming.

  2. Through collaboration with a Dutch NGO, Solidaridad, together with the SA Food Lab and 17 Shaft Training Facility, WWF co-ordinated a pilot “train-the-trainer’’ programme for 22 participants from rural Limpopo. The group consisted of smallholder farmers, agri-business entrepreneurs and leaders of local co-operatives. The participants committed to each supporting another seven smallholder farmers in adopting similar practices in their home villages.

  3. In 2012, WWF partnered with Woolworths on their Farming for Future programme, aimed at promoting sustainable farming amongst this retailer’s producers. Since the partnership, 331 farmers have joined the programme, and have improved their use of water, pesticides, fertilisers and other practices in their production process.

  4. In 2017, WWF in partnership with Blue North, successfully completed the development and piloting of a comprehensive SIZA Environmental Standard across the South African fruit sector, and we continue to provide support for the full integration and servicing of this environmental sustainability assurance process.