Drought-proofing the Southern Cape is key to its socio-economic prosperity, and dealing with invasive alien plants is a vital part of it

“Certain parts of the Garden Route and Southern Cape will be feeling the effects of recent prolonged droughts for years to come, and some areas in the Karoo and Klein Karoo where long-suffering farmers had no choice other than all-together give up on viable commercial farming,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

“South African farmers are renowned for their ability to adapt to meet challenges thrown at them, but the triple whammy presented by extremely expensive fuel, daily load-shedding and the ever-present threat of water shortages are taking the agricultural sector to levels where their resilience will be severely tested.”

“Those living in the towns and cities are by no means not affected by the challenges confronting the agricultural sector, as all those factors suppressing a prosperous agricultural economy inevitably reflect in not only soaring food prices and even the availability thereof but also the ability of the region to create work and income for many dependent on its viability.”

“Water security stands out as the more serious of the factors threatening viable farming. Although farmers can still deal with load-shedding and have little choice to absorb rising fuel costs, without sufficient water farming is simply not possible.” 

“As the residents of Port Elizabeth and surrounding towns and settlements can attest to, those living in urban areas are by no means exempt from the impact of water shortages. In Gauteng, residents now realise for the first time that water-shedding is a lot worse than electricity load-shedding or rising fuel costs.” 

Protecting water resources is key to our future and the standard of living we choose

Says Meiring, “Statistics indicate that many thousands of people are moving to the Southern and Western Cape regions with more coming over the next few years as standards of living in the interior keep deteriorating due to failing municipalities and mismanagement of public institutions at all levels, so the question begs, where will sufficient and sustainable water supplies come from?”

“Augmenting fresh water supplies for the town of Oudsthoorn and surrounds with groundwater resources will bring much-needed respite over the next decade or so, and in George, the dam wall has been heightened in recent times in order to increase storage capacity, but even these hard interventions may proof to be insufficient if drought strikes again and the rains stay away as it has proven many times over.” 

According to Meiring, landowners should take a lot more responsibility to ensure that they contribute to drought-proof their properties and by implication the region. The two most achievable and cost-effective interventions are to clear their land of water-sapping invasive alien plants, and to invest in water tanks and water-saving technologies, and to do so without avail.

Concludes Meiring, ”There is ample scientific evidence that invasive alien plants suck up enormous amounts of surface and groundwater. Private landowners can do a lot to protect their freshwater sources by clearing their land of invasive aliens and keep their regrowth under control, and at the very same time protect their homes from the risk posed by wildfire disasters.”

Photo Caption: The Southern Cape agricultural sector is heavily dependent on the availability of fresh water, and the protection thereof in the face of rapid population growth. The ever-present threat of drought makes investment into drought-proofing the region vital.

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