Vaalharts: environmental aspects of agricultural land and water use practices
The world population is rapidly growing and this population growth is placing tremendous strain on food security. Therefore, more food has to be produced to meet the demand of the increasing number of people, which leads to an increase of food production. It is referred to as intensive agriculture. Although this intensification of agriculture will benefit food security, the intensification might negatively affect the environment. South Africa’s population is also growing and farmers’ intensifying food production may lead to environmental degradation. For the purpose of this study, the Vaalharts irrigation scheme was used as case study area. The Vaalharts irrigation scheme is a unique agricultural region which is referred to as the breadbasket of the Northern Cape because of the high yield production. Farmers operate in vastly different modes of food production, with differing environmental influences and impacts. Much still needs to be understood of the environmental issues arising from small and large scale farming in Vaalharts. This leads to the question: What are the different environmental aspects associated with agricultural land and water use in the Vaalharts irrigation scheme? This study examines how the farmers go about farming and what the environmental effects are of these activities. One of the outcomes of the research was to determine if sustainable agriculture could mitigate these environmental issues that derive from agriculture and how implementation thereof can benefit food security. To answer this question, an analysis of land and water use practices within the irrigation scheme was carried out. One method was using existing information that was gathered through local organizations and authorities in the region. Secondly, a questionnaire was circulated among local small and large scale farmers to investigate the environmental issues that derive from agricultural land and water use in the Vaalharts irrigation scheme. The results show that the main environmental issues farmers experience is a decline in water and soil quality because of high salinization caused by agricultural inputs. The farmers perceive canal water to be polluted and would rather use borehole water for household and livestock consumption. Previously farmers did not have a wide variety of crops and most farmers would farm with pecan nut trees. This was identified as the main crop. Most farmers felt that their farms were sustainable and presented examples like drip irrigation and cover crops to support their statements. The study found that there were farmers that prove that sustainable agriculture can mitigate some environmental issues in the Vaalharts irrigation scheme.