SA water curbs to hit citrus exports

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Some of the country’s biggest export products, including citrus and avocados, are likely to suffer under the latest water restrictions.

The Department of Water and Sanitation has gazetted further water consumption restrictions in the Western Cape and Limpopo.

Willem van Jaarsveld, the chief of Agri Limpopo, said farmers in the area were extremely worried, especially about the citrus production.

“We are the biggest citrus producer in South Africa. We’re worried about it because the orchards are flowering, meaning the fruit is in the process of growing.

“It is a crucial time in the life of a citrus tree, or any tree produce. There must be enough water to keep up the healthy growth of the producing tree,” he said.

Restrictions had been placed on a number of water supply systems and dams in Limpopo, with more stringent restrictions for mining and irrigation usage.

The domestic usage restrictions included a 20 percent restriction on water from the Polokwane water supply system; 50 percent from the Nsami Dam in Giyani; 45 percent from the Thabina Dam in Tzaneen, and 50 percent from the Glen Alpine Dam near Mokopane.

Irrigation restrictions included an 80 percent restriction on both the Middle Letaba and Nsami dams, a 70 percent restriction from the Tzaneen Dam and a 100 percent restriction from Flag Boshielo. There was a 55 percent restriction for mining usage from the Flag Boshielo system.

Van Jaarsveld was also concerned about the province’s avocado, macadamia nut, mango and vegetable production.

“Across the board, there are huge problems if we are not going to receive large quantities of substantial rain within the next month.”

He said most of the farmers in the area had already restricted their irrigation usage by between 40 and 60 percent of their own accord over the past four months.

“The irrigation farmers are not irresponsible farmers. Their livelihood depends on what they do with water, how sparingly and effectively they use it.”

The latest Gazette notice said water consumption from the Western Cape Water Supply System, which includes areas within the Berg-Olifants and Breede-Gouritz water-manage-ment areas, had to be reduced by 20 percent.

Margaret-Ann Diedricks, the director-general of the department, said the restrictions had been put in place due to the current water shortages in the area that existed “due to insufficient rains and restricted rainfall predictions for the coming season”.

This comes a mere month after a Government Gazette notice published on August 12 ordered municipalities using water from the Integrated Vaal River System to decrease their urban water usage by 15 percent and rural or irrigation usage by 20 percent.

The City of Joburg announced recently that it would impose water-restriction tariffs in an attempt to discourage irresponsible and unnecessary water usage.

Nic Opperman, the director of natural resources at Agri SA, said irrigation farmers were always hit hardest by water restrictions.

“The pricing strategy of the Department of Water and Sanitation indicates that we’ve got the lowest assurance of supply. We’re usually the first to be curtailed,” he said.

The restrictions would negatively affect farmers’ businesses and ultimately food security and food prices, Opperman added.

He was, however, in favour of the department’s move to define the country’s water systems under nine new water-management areas, which would eventually each be governed by a catchment-management agency.

The new water management areas included Limpopo, Olifants, Inkomati-Usuthu, Pongola-Mtavuna, Vaal Major, Orange, Mzimvubu-Tsitsikamma, Breede-Gouritz and Berg-Olifants.