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There is great risk to businesses in the face of reduced water access, especially in water scarce South Africa. We must make wise use of what we have. Water stewardship is about taking care of something you do not own. It is a long-term journey to improve your water use, reduce water impacts and act with others on the big water issues.

What is the issue?

Water poses both a risk and an opportunity for business to be water wise and protect shared water resources. Our water resources and river systems are complex. With the highest volume of rain falling mostly in our high mountains, these water source areas are commonly referred to as water factories for our major cities.

This rainfall into rivers then makes its way along the rivers as it flows to the sea. We call this water system a catchment. But there are many challenges within a catchment that reduce a river’s flow and water quality. Along the way, chemicals and waste from farms, factories. human settlements and other industries can get into the river. There are also many fast-spreading water-thirsty trees that are not indigenous to our country which suck our rivers dry.

Needless to say that what happens upstream affects the water quality and quantity, and consequently those who rely on it, downstream.

What are we doing?

WWF works with diverse water users to drive the good management of our critical river systems. We focus on the water-intensive agriculture and forestry sectors and spearhead support to ensure clearing of water-thirsty invasive vegetation.

How do we do this?

WWF has been working with a variety of landowners and farmers from stone fruit and wine in the Western Cape to sugarcane and dairy in KwaZulu-Natal and hops farmers in the southern Cape, as well as those involved in cattle farming in the interior grassland areas where some of our major rivers have their mountain beginnings.

By working with individual landowners we are able to empower water champions within the landscape. These champions continue to unite neighbouring landowners within their river catchment, to approach shared challenges and start collaborative water initiatives.

WWF has also designed the Water Risk Filter, a free online tool that provides a set of risk indicators and facilitates access to local data on water risk scenarios. This tool interprets 22 national datasets for assessing your locational risk and translates your in-house practices into risk numbers based on your responses to a questionnaire.

Who do we work with?

From local landowners who grow fruit and other commodities to corporates who sell produce, WWF engages with those who link into forestry, as well as the agricultural supply chains of wine, fruit, sugarcane, dairy and beef.

How did it start?

In 1995, WWF helped to catalyse a national job creation initiative in areas where there was a high density of invasive alien vegetation. By providing training to those who joined this Working for Water programme, the work was to clear these water-thirsty plants from the rivers and surrounding banks so as to free up natural river flow.

As of 2013, WWF became increasingly involved in facilitating alien clearing initiatives and rehabilitation with land owners, such as in the Riversonderend  and the Wolseley surrounds in the Breede catchment, as well as the Waboomskraal area in the Gouritz catchment in the southern Cape.

At the same time, growing concern about water risk in the supply chain led retailers Woolworths, Marks & Spencers and Distell to look at water stewardship options at fruit and wine farm level.  These projects involved volunteer farmers, who have grown increasing resilience to water risks through their water stewardship practices on-farm and within the community.

Many of the lessons learnt have been solidified into water stewardship guidelines for farmers. One such tool is the web-based self-assessment tool based on the Alliance for Water Stewardship. It helps water users consider and address important points along their water stewardship journey, and it acts as a tracker to see progress on your water stewardship journey.

What are the big wins?
  1. The Working for Water programme, of which WWF was a catalyst, is now run by government with over 300 projects across all nine provinces. They have collectively cleared more than a million hectares of alien plants thus helping to sustain our country’s water supply.

  2. The landowner-based alien clearing initiatives have led to sound farming community support and a model whereby alien clearing managers are employed by local water user associations, to drive and co-ordinate clearing in Wolseley, Riviersonderend and Waboomskraal. 

  3. The Riversonderend catchment near Greyton WWF also helped to set up a community-run nursery with indigenous plants, in order to replant them and rehabilitate the river banks. 

  4. In the Ceres Valley, a successful community initiative engaged residents of two rural townships to be involved in water stewardship activities. They organise their own river and neighbourhood litter clean ups and rapid alert systems to the local Witzenberg municipality in case of leaks or sewage spillages. This group of empowered citizens became known as the Witzenberg Water Savers.