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As South Africa’s drought continues, citrus, vegetable and dairy farmers in the Gamtoos River Valley are predicting low food yields as a result of their water allocation being reduced by 60%. Fed by the Kouga Dam, the area is increasing its water saving measures as the dam is currently on 18.6% capacity. This is its lowest level since 1992.

Drought affects Gamtoos River Valley farms1The Kouga Dam stands at just 18.6% capacity – levels last witnessed in 1991. Farmers drawing water from the dam have had their allocations for 2017/18 slashed by 60% from July 1.

The decision to allocate farmers 40% of their annual water allocation, taken by the Department of Water Affairs, will have a knock-on effect on food production as well as jobs. Farmers who have big commercial contracts with supermarkets will need to plan well in advance, and if farmers can’t plant their full allocation of crops, there is no need for a full quota of staff.

Farmer Rudolf Rose, who grows maize, lucerne and vegetables, says that on a full water allocation, he is able to plant 350 hectares of combined crops annually. With the reduced allocation, this will more likely be around 160 hectares. “If that’s the case, we will have to concentrate on our higher income crops that are less water intensive, such as pumpkin and butternut,” he says.

Drought affects Gamtoos River Valley farms2Gamtoos Irrigation Board employees have embarked on the annual two-week repair and maintenance of the 69km main canal which leads from the Kouga Dam to the Loerie Dam and surrounding farms.

“The lucerne will survive, but we’ll get no yield from that crop. The maize is too water intensive to plant. Even with a full allocation of water in 2016/17, we battled because of the very low rainfall. Now the dam is low, and that is our last line of defence.”

Jacques du Preez, who farms sweet potato, carrots, maize and wheat, says that he took the decision in April not to plant maize for 2017/18, and to cut back slightly on the rest of the crop production. He will then use the water allocation for 2017/18 to get that crop to harvest in August/September. However, if there have been no further rains by then, he will not be able to produce the crops he needs.

The crisis has escalated the importance of savings for the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB), which has embarked on a 16-day maintenance and repair shutdown of its main canal leading water from the Kouga Dam to the Loerie Dam – which feeds the Nelson Mandela Bay metro – and surrounding farms. The annual shutdown of the 69km canal – and, at staggered intervals, the other 45km of branch canals – has become key to the irrigation board keeping its water losses low.

Over the past year, GIB has reported water losses of just 7.5%, mainly from leaks and evaporation – down from 13% in 2008 when it received a national accolade for water savings. GIB’s losses are also dramatically lower than cities such as the Bay metro, which reports annual losses of between 30 and 40%.

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