CELESTE DOMINGO | Government must do more to protect land, water

PREMIUM

The Eastern Cape is one of SA’s most beautiful provinces.Throughout the rolling hills of our province, almost one in three households is involved in agriculture, yet according to the StatsSA 2017 household survey, 80% of these households report that they receive no agricultural support from the government.A new study undertaken by Dr Samantha Braid and published by the SA Water Resource Commission highlights that, prior to 1994, there was extensive government land care support, but these extension services have declined during democracy, to the detriment of our land, food and water security.These findings were reiterated in recent farm visits I undertook across the province, where farmers raised concerns about the lack of support, access and water security.Water security, agriculture and soil protection are closely linked.For example, soils in Sinxaku and the surrounding villages are easily erodible, as they are in many parts of the Eastern Cape.Prior to 1994, slopes were extensively cultivated, but with the repeal of the Group Areas Act and ability of all people to move freely around our country, there has been extensive migration of people from villages like this to towns and cities.The remaining homesteads in the area continue to cultivate small fields and use the veld for livestock grazing, but this land is under threat from erosion.Fields have to be progressively abandoned as the erosion dongas grow.With an absence of government support, villagers are left to deal with these problems on their own.As the recent Water Research Commission study showed, the challenge is that rehabilitation of eroding fields and stopping dongas is both expensive and complicated by a lot of legislation that is impossible to navigate.This means that even those who want to work to rehabilitate their environment are prevented from doing so.Without government support, agriculture is increasingly marginalised to less and less good areas because valuable fertile valley soils are eroded away.This has a direct impact on the food security of households that depend on agriculture, but also impacts our wider economy and water security of our towns and cities downstream.The eroded soils flow downstream into our dams, meaning that there is more mud in the dams and, increasingly, less space for water.During droughts, such as the Eastern Cape has been experiencing for some time, the reduced water storage in dams means less water for the towns and cities that need it.Some residents of Makhanda (Grahamstown) have been without water for more than 25 days due to low dam levels and problems caused by mud in the water clogging filters in that city.If we are going to fix our province and secure our water supply, we have to work together, from the headwaters of our rivers, streams and wetlands all the way down to the sea.The erosion is not only the loss of land and fertile top soil, but also contributes excessive volumes of sediment into streams and rivers.This means that downstream dams fill up with sediment very quickly – expensive dams fill up within two years, making them unusable – and the sedimentation is not suitable for irrigation, or for domestic use, and requires expensive and technically complicated treatment for drinking purposes.The erosion threatens not only fields.The erosion is so deep it poses a safety risk to livestock and people.As the dongas are expanding, houses, infrastructure such as roads and pipelines, and also cultural points, such as the burial places in local cemeteries, are being lost.If agricultural extension officers had been on hand, they may have been able to assist with simple and small-scale mitigation works, such as vegetation barriers and stone check dams.These are now insufficient due the extent and depth of the dongas.Large-scale engineering works, such as big gabion structures, will be far too costly over such a wide area, but one remedy could be to re-shape the gullies to lessen the slope of the gullies, thereafter allowing for revegetation and stabilisation to stop or at least slow down erosion.As SA faces major water shortages and electricity shortages, and is heading towards food shortages, the country cannot afford to lose productive land and water resources that should have been available, and can be easily mitigated and rehabilitated.We need the government to stop wasting money through corruption and cadre deployment.Instead it must prioritise spending on the critical services and functions that our citizens need.We need to fix the holes at the bottom to support the tower so that we can keep building.A GOOD government will ensure that farmers have access to support and expertise from agricultural officers, including assistance to stop erosion, so that the work of farming and producing food is made easier. ● Celeste Domingo is GOOD’s premier candidate for the Eastern Cape...

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