School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

UKZN Centre Co-Hosts Discussions on Water Security

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UKZN’s Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS) partnered with South Africa’s Water Research Commission (WRC) to co-host a virtual dialogue on the topic of enhancing water security through improved agricultural water productivity.

Delving into new knowledge, innovations and applications around agricultural water productivity, the event included an address from WRC Chief Executive Officer Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, and a keynote presentation from World Bank senior irrigation specialist Dr Petra Schmitter.

A panel of experts joined the discussion including the President of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, Professor Ragab Ragab; lecturer in Water Productivity and Remote Sensing at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education Dr Abebe Chukalla; Dr Aidan Senzanje of UKZN’s Discipline of Bioresources Engineering, UKZN alumnus Dr Vimbayi Chimonyo of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Zimbabwe, and WSP Africa civil engineer Mr Peter Townshend.

Welcoming participants, Co-Director of the CTAFS Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi said the goal of the event was to prompt conversation to provide information for a book being compiled to synthesise knowledge on enhancing water security through improved agricultural water productivity in the global South.

Schmitter’s presentation highlighted emerging solutions with potential to contribute to water security, noting the importance of the scale of interventions and a nexus approach, honing in on enhancing storage and access to water, and incentivising smart water use.

‘If we are going to better manage our water use in agriculture, we need to think holistically about our approaches and interventions, but also across the water-energy-food (WEF) sector using a multi-risk framework,’ she said.

Mabhaudhi thanked Schmitter for the insightful presentation covering the breadth of agricultural water management, calling it a masterclass that included theory and placed significant emphasis on designing context-specific solutions while considering the heterogeneity of scale.

Naidoo’s presentation touched on key events occurring in the global community that would determine the trajectory of water and agricultural development in the future and paid special attention to movements towards the democratisation of agriculture as a model to achieve zero poverty and universal food and nutrition security.

‘It is not just about better science, better productivity and better water management, it is about plugging this into the right paradigm to deal with the inequality in the world and having genuine food access,’ said Naidoo.

‘Not only is water a fantastic building block around economic recovery and development, the agricultural enterprise is a pivotal player in determining whether or not we have a green future. If we have successful agriculture moving into the next 20 years, the realisation of the net zero by the 2050 target will be highly achievable.’

The discussions proceeded to a panel debate chaired by WRC Executive Manager Professor Sylvester Mpandeli.

‘We need to address water productivity and link it with new approaches including a circular economy, the WEF nexus and sustainable food systems,’ said Mpandeli as he highlighted key WRC projects working towards this goal.

During the panel debate, Ragab addressed current water issues requiring rational management of supply and demand, and Abebe discussed the need to improve productivity since freshwater and land per person available for agriculture is declining. Senzanje gave a general presentation on water productivity, highlighting the importance of being open-minded to different management systems to derive increased benefit from water resources.

Chimonyo discussed how crop diversity could improve water productivity by examining cereal and legume intercrop systems, while Townsend addressed the effective use of irrigation water using automatic water control equipment.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied