Growers and their staff will have to develop an entirely new approach in future to managing water use on their farms and ensuring that optimum use of water is made in every orchard.
This was one of the views emerging from a recent initiative from UK importer Worldwide Fruit, in association with three British supermarkets
It has also emerged that while most in the South African fruit industry are very aware of the challenges they are facing, there is a need to dig down further on farms and within orchards and vineyards to see what is really going on and to understand water vulnerability risks.
What is striking is that this initiative is not only supported by growers, exporters, researchers and retailers in South Africa, but also the import sector in Britain, as well as British retailers.
“Our business relationships extend to and operate and function across multiple countries and regions,” said Tony Harding, technical and procurement director of Worldwide Fruit. “As a result our strategy has an unavoidable exposure to a multitude of regulatory, political, social and cultural realities, all of which we seek to consider, accommodated and respect. Our strategy, very specifically, requires the involvement of, and the engaging with, the many farmers that represent the source of the produce we sell to our retail customers.”
The recent good rains in the Cape region may have reduced some of the immediate pressure on the fruit sector, but it is certain that in future fruit growers will have to deal with new scenarios of water use which makes the workshop extremely relevant.
“We were perhaps not always aware how far the risk of water vulnerability is affecting growers or should be affecting decisions made on what to plant or how to deal with the diversity of conditions where orchards are established on farms,” said Green Marketing’s Ryno Bougas.
Head of South African retailer Woolworth’s Farming for the Future, Kobus Pienaar, said a WWF study showed that South African nectarine growers are already among the most sensitive water users in the world.
“What the Worldwide Fruit workshop will have done is to raise awareness and encourage growers to do more to understand exactly where and how much water they use in each orchard or vineyard," he explained. "It may well be that in future there will be a different set of measurements used in the process of deciding what to plant.”
“We were delighted with the way the event went and have received some really encouraging feedback from attendees,” Harding outlined. “We heard some excellent talks from the keynote speakers who provided an in-depth, well informed position on the water situation in the Western Cape.
"The academic teams’ approach to creating a game based around the water position with the participants was a really original idea," he added. "The game development was a catalyst for discussion and the sharing of thoughts on the subject matter.”Harding explained that this was a starting point for Worldwide Fruit. “We are now considering how we can integrate our efforts and add value to our growers and the wider community in the Western Cape by working closely with the local agencies and on the ground experts.”
The way South African growers understand water vulnerability risks and the best way to find solutions and communicate strategies was the key part of the workshop.
The acceptance that change in climate is happening right now was highlighted by most of those attending. They pointed out that water and the issues resulting from it were valid problems, not only in Western Cape but which involve the whole value chain. They also confirmed that the involvement of all roleplayers to work to a solution is required. This will lead to optimum good practices emerging which all will benefit from.
Pienaar said that in the long term, positive constructive engagement would be of benefit to all.