Agribusinesses: Where do we stand with future Water Legislation?

The Western Cape, and South Africa, is in the midst of the worst drought in a long, long time. With much less to go around, responses have included increased monitoring, demand management, and the imposition of restrictions. Still we are far off the mark with an incredibly tough summer ahead.

But with increasing variability in supply and increasing competition for water resources, what of the future – what are the planned legislative reforms by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and how are these likely to impact agribusinesses?

The Blue North team attended a very valuable presentation by James Brand and Stephen Levetan of ENS Africa law firm in August. Some of the main points from the presentation include:

  • The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has indicated that the allocations to agriculture will remain capped at the current 67%.
  • There will be a focus to redress past imbalances in allocations to Historically Disadvantaged Individuals (HDI’s).
  • Irrigation regulations published on 17 February 2017: “the taking of water for irrigation will be measured, recorded and reported to the authorities, if directed to do so.”
  • Approximately 65% of South Africa’s water use is through land ownership as Existing Lawful Uses (ELUs). Verification has commenced by the DWS throughout the country to validate and verify ELUs.
  • In time, all ELUs that have not been verified will need to reapply for their water use entitlement by way of the compulsory licensing provisions. If refused or granted a lesser use than the ELU, compensation may be claimed for any financial loss suffered in the process, subject to the fulfilment of specified criteria in the National Water Act.
  • A water use licence or verified ELU is subject to review every 5 years and may be reduced if:
    • Necessary to prevent deterioration of the quality of the water resource
    • Insufficient water for all authorised water uses after allowing for the ecological reserve
    • Necessary to accommodate demands brought about by changes in socio-economic circumstances, and it is in the public interest to meet those demands.
    • Other similar licenses are also reduced.
  • The irrigation sector currently receives a significant subsidy, due to sector-wide caps on various charges. Importantly, the agricultural subsidy will be removed in phases, with a proposed 20% annual reduction over a period of five years.

As highlighted by Brand and Levetan, “physical, regulatory and reputational risks relating to water use can cause disruption of supply and, in worst cases, termination of business operations”. It is important for agribusinesses to gain absolute clarity on what their water use entitlements are; measure and benchmark water use; and, implement water use efficiency measures wherever possible.


Blue North has developed a series of comprehensive Water Risk Management solutions. These entail a combination of desktop water risk profiling, operation-specific water footprint calculations and benchmarking; and the development of a detailed and comprehensive operation-specific water risk management plan.

If you would like more information on Blue North’s Water Desk, please contact Myles Oelofse on



Brand, J., and Levetan, S. (2017). Agribusiness: Water Law. ENS Africa Law Firm. [Presentation attended 15th August 2017]

One of the lowest levels at which I have seen the massive Theewaterskloof Dam (4th largest capacity in South Africa) close to Villiersdorp in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Drones and Agriculture 101

A new “buzz” word in agriculture is “drones” (pun intended). But what are they and how do they actually work?  Most importantly, how can they help me, the farmer?

A drone is an unmanned aircraft, also known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)1. If you like a bit of drama you can refer to them as a “flying robots”.

Being unmanned, drones are controlled by a person on the ground, or more likely in the agricultural context, the drone is programmed with a flight path over a specific field or orchard block. It uses the flight path in conjunction with onboard software, GPS, and other sensors to navigate.

When you add a camera to the drone it becomes really useful. Besides having a bird’s eye view of your fields or orchard blocks, the camera can take pictures with infrared sensors (humans cannot see infrared light). When combined with the right algorithms, these images can be super useful as they can show plant stress from disease, pests, over or under-irrigation and nutrient deficiency.  Drone images can also be in high definition, so a farmer can zoom in on a specific tree, or even a specific part of a tree!

The drone imagery can then be displayed on a GIS (Geographic Information System) platform or a satellite imagery interface like Google Earth.  It is then possible to zoom in or out and view images over time, to see how the stress manifested or how the stressed areas are reacting to specific management decisions.

There are numerous case studies of farmers using remote sensing data (obtained either through drones or satellites) to reduce water use, increase yields and nip pests in the bud before the damage is done.

Satellite remote-sensing data is different in that data is obtained from a slightly different unmanned vehicle, but the data is typically of a lower temporal frequency (e.g. once a week), and with a lower resolution. Fruitlook is a great example of a useful remote-sensing data platform, where data is currently provided for free. This is a good way for farmers to get a feel for the technology, and figure out specific opportunities within their operation.



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Recent estimates suggest that there are more than 570 million farms in the world. Of these, more than 475 million are smaller than 2ha, commonly referred to as smallholdings. Even though these smallholder farms only utilise approximately 12% of global agricultural land, smallholder farms are estimated to directly and indirectly support a population of more than 2 billion people (Lowder et al. 2016; Goldman et al. 2016), whilst IFAD (2013) estimate that about 2.5 billion people are employed, partially or entirely, in 500 million small farms worldwide. Smallholder farms therefore play a critical role in food security, poverty reduction and sustainable development for a very large proportion of rural populations, globally. Read more


Managing your farm with Fruitlook

We all know South African farmers operate within a challenging environment, where the short and long-term viability of an operation entails picking a path through a multitude of production pressures. Some of these include rising input costs; competition for scarce water resources; and the challenges associated with a changing climate. Fruitlook, an online remote-sensing platform, can make the management of these pressures easier and more effective. Read more

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Angus McIntosh – the previous London-based finance professional turned livestock farmer. Not a ‘gewone’ farmer, but a razor sharp and enthusiastic farmer that has steadfastly plotted his course against the grain of convention. For those of you that don’t know, Angus is the man behind Spier’s pasture-raised livestock and the ‘Farmer Angus’ name.   Read more


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What is agroecology? Agroecology is defined as “the application of ecological concepts to the design and management of sustainable agro-ecosystems” (Silici, 2014). The principles of agroecology are increasingly gaining traction as a means to building agri system sustainability and resilience, reducing dependence on costly chemical inputs, and building productivity at the farm level through the production of a diverse range of products (Silici, 2014). Read more

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Arguably the most important step to driving any environmental initiative is to change behaviour. As with recycling, it is simply difficult to increase recycling rates without increasing  the rate at which recyclables are collected at both the household and company levels, requiring a change in behaviour by both you and I. JD Kirsten, realising the potential wider gains from improved rates of recycling, have adopted a novel approach to onboard its farm workers. Read more

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‘Nudging’ the way to change

Having recently read the book ‘Nudge’ by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, I became intrigued by the potential for ‘nudge’ solutions to environmental challenges, some of which are described in the book. Read more

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SA’s draft carbon tax legislation and carbon offset regulations: How will it work?

Subsequent to the ratification of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we need to prepare to operate in a carbon constrained economy over the medium to long term. This was emphasised by National Treasury in a press release on the 10th of November 2016. A business as usual scenario is no longer an option. Read more