Healthy, well-functioning natural systems play a vital role in supporting the country’s food and water security, whilst also maintaining healthy communities and sustained livelihoods.
This was highlighted during a two-day field trip through the Umgeni catchment in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, co-hosted by WWF South Africa and Nedbank.
“Food and water security are deeply interlinked with the health of our natural systems. We need to actively invest in the protection and restoration of our natural environments in order to secure our future supply of sufficient, good food and water for all South Africans,” said Inge Kotze, senior manager of the WWF South Africa’s Sustainable Agriculture Programme.
“Agriculture is currently positioned at a cross roads in terms of limited resource availability of water, land and energy inputs. These constraints have significant implications for the future of the sector.”
With food and water security as a priority, Nedbank has partnered with WWF-SA over the last three years, investing more than R17-million into programmes to support sustainable agricultural production, balanced by sound water use and freshwater management practices.
Rewarding sustainable best practice for a thriving society
Emphasising the need to invest in these eco-systems, Brigitte Burnett, Head of Sustainability at Nedbank, commented:
“Building a sustainable society requires sound investment and long term commitment to ensure that our water and food security challenges are appropriately addressed. We believe that effective investing, motivating, promoting and rewarding of sustainable best practice and innovation through a partnership approach can help realise our vision of a thriving society. The progress thus far in the Umgeni Catchment is one such example which continues to solidify this vision.”
The Umgeni Catchment is one of the most ecologically and socio-economically important river catchments in the country. Approximately 20% of South Africa’s gross national product is estimated to be generated within the overall catchment through mainly tourism and key production sectors such as agriculture, forestry and industrial development.
In addition, the Umgeni River system provides water to the eThekwini Metro and to Pietermaritzburg – the economic hubs of KwaZulu Natal. It is therefore vital that this catchment is conserved and wisely managed.
The WWF Sustainable Agriculture Programme, in partnership with Nedbank, harnesses the skills, experience and influence of both WWF and Nedbank agriculture specialists to support farmers on the journey of better production.
Promoting innovative solutions to resource challenges in agriculture
This partnership aims to promote innovative solutions to the resource challenges facing agriculture, whilst also minimising the impact of agriculture on a finite resource base and within our landscapes. This includes effectively maintaining healthy, functioning ecosystems within farmlands through the development and implementation of sustainable production practices and fostering good landowner stewardship models.
The programme focuses on five key commodity sectors that occur in high value biodiversity areas in South Africa, namely fruit, wine, dairy, beef (in particular grassland free-range beef) and sugar sectors. The fieldtrip in the Umgeni catchment area, highlighted sugar, fruit and forestry as key production influences in this landscape.
Nedbank is also one of three participants in the WWF Water Balance Programme. The programme urges forward-thinking corporates to become active water stewards, recognising their dependency on water and their responsibility to ensure its future supply.
Big business must play stronger role
“Big business has a vital role to play in ensuring economic growth, but it must also play a stronger role in helping sustain our growth, and helping to protect functioning freshwater systems”, says Helen Gordon, Manager of the WWF Water Balance Programme.
Nedbank’s investment in the Water Balance Programme is over a five year period and is aimed at balancing the company’s operational water consumption of around 550,000 kilolitres through the removal of invasive alien plants in high priority water catchment areas, including the Umgeni catchment area. Apart from having major environmental and water benefits, the clearing of invasive alien plants has tangible economic and social benefits. Water plays a major role in economic development and social benefits come from the labour-intensive work of removing invasive alien plant species.
The progress made in the Umgeni Catchment further reinforces the need for creative partnerships to address the social, economic and environmental challenges confronting the country. If South Africa is going to overcome these significant challenges, collective action and behavioural change is required now for the benefit of securing a sustainable future.