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The crucial relationship between water and farming

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

The smell of coming rain. The rumbling of thunder coming closer from the distance. Dark clouds moving in over the horizon. The first drops of rain to fall in the new rain season. And after the rain has fallen, the unique smell that we associate with after-rain bliss lingers in the air.

The old saying that ‘water is life’, still rings true, even though it has been said and used for many years. On the other hand, water can also be destructive when one thinks about the devastation left behind after a flood.

Farmers, who work closely alongside nature, will tell you that rain is the lifeblood of their farms. Without rain, dams and streams will not fill and plants will not grow. Animals will not survive and neither will farms. Water forms a crucial part of the circle of life.

As South Africans, we can all readily admit to using water to cool down during the summer months. Swimming is a favourite pastime for many of us, as are other water-based activities like fishing, canoeing and river rafting. But how often do we look past our water-based activities and see the water itself? The life water both holds and provides for?

We live in a country in which the term ‘drought’ has become a stark reality. Over the past several years, we have seen the drought – the worst in many years – take its toll on the country and the farming community. We are always looking for new ways to save water. From fixing leaks in dams to planting drought-resistant cultivars and thinking about more innovative methods to use less water, South Africans are always looking for solutions.

When the 2020 rain season kicked off for the summer rain areas in South Africa, areas that are known for higher rainfall started off with less than what is considered normal. And areas towards the northern regions of South Africa, in turn, started off the season with much higher rainfall than can normally be expected.

Farmers are prone to speculate about what the season will bring with regard to rain, but no one can truly say. Weather services are watched carefully, hoping for answers. What can be done, however, is to prepare for a normal rain season as well as for a drier season. How you approach and prepare for a season will greatly influence how you are able to handle the season, whether wet or dry.

Farmers (producers) are reliant on rainfall to produce food, from grain, fruit and vegetables all the way through to livestock production. Some sectors need more water than others, but water remains important. Water is an important factor for food production and food security.

By fixing cracks and leaks in dams, for example, water loss can be prevented. Doing maintenance throughout and not just sporadically, means costs are generally lower and the water that is lost in the process is also significantly less. How to do the maintenance can be quite a conundrum, however.

When it comes to cement dams (and reservoirs), cracks can cause the whole structure to fall and crumble down. When cracks appear, whether small hairline cracks or larger cracks, fixing them before they cause the dam to break will keep costs down and will ensure water is not lost needlessly. Water leaking through cracks can wear down the whole weak area in the structure, causing it to break down completely in the end.

There are numerous options for farmers to fix dams. These options range from cement, silicon or rubber options and even dam linings. It depends on what is needed for the dam in question. It is always a good idea to keep in mind that replacing a dam will be quite a bit more costly than fixing cracks before they cause trouble.

Water is not something that only farmers have to think about, though. Whether you live in a rural area, in a town or even in a city, or even if you are in the mining industry, water remains important to everyone. Without sufficient water, normal day-to-day activities like doing washing or washing your car can cease abruptly –something our fellow citizens in the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape can attest to.

Water can become a breeding ground for parasites and diseases. This usually occurs when water becomes stagnant. Even certain running water sources can be a source of disease when the water has been polluted. Always make sure when using the water, whether for yourself, your animals or even for your vegetable garden, that the water is clean and not contaminated.

If you come across a water source you intend to use, always be cautious. Try to find out beforehand if the water source is safe to use, look around to see if others (including animals) use the water source and take the needed tools with to purify the water (cooking water before using it helps to purify the water). If the source of water seems to be contaminated with plastic, soapy substances and other questionable items, it would be in your best interest to rather not use the water.

If you do come across a clean, safe water source you are likely to find some of the cleanest, purest water that has remained untouched by harsh chemicals. Enjoy the water and make sure to leave it as you found it for those who come after you to enjoy.

How can someone save water in their home? By fixing leaking taps and pipes, by putting up a reservoir to collect rain water and even by re-using grey water in gardens instead of opening a tap for more water.

What is grey water? Grey water is the water from kitchen sinks, washing machines and bath water. Grey water can be used in gardens and can even be used to wash cars and paving.

Interesting facts about water in South Africa:

  • South Africa is the 39th driest country in the world (having slightly improved from 30th position in 2014).

  • Because of the size of the population in the country, South Africa has less water per person than either Botswana or Namibia.

  • On 9 September 2020, South Africa’s water situation was considered stable, with dam levels holding out at 60% (before the onset of rain in the summer rain regions).

  • Advice for saving water and water sources:

  • Try to use biodegradable products.

  • Prevent raw waste (including sewage) from being dumped into water sources (pollution).

  • Clean debris like plastics and other non-biodegradable items from water sources.

  • Fix leaks and prevent water from being wasted.

Water is a necessity for everyone to survive. Whether to farmers (producers), town or city folk, the mining industry or even factories, water is essential. Unfortunately, water is finite, and with much of the water available in South Africa being contaminated and polluted, we have to find ways to clean and re-use our water.

After all, water is life and we need water to survive.

Sources: /

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