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South Africa

Ms Palo Kgasago
Interim Secretariat
South African National Committee on
Irrigation and Drainage (SANCID)
Private Bag X515, Silverton
Pretoria, 001

Tel : +27 12 846 8563
Email : PaloKG@daff.gov.za
Website : http://www.sancid.org.za/


Dr. Michael van der Laan
South African National Committee on Irrigation and Drainage (SANCID)
Department of Plant Production and Soil Science
University of Pretoria
Private Bag X20
Hatfield Pretoria 0028

Email : Michael.VanDerLaan@up.ac.za


Dr. Sylvester Mpandeli
Vice Chairman
South African National Committee on Irrigation and Drainage (SANCID)
Water Research Commision
Private Bag X 03
Gezina 0031

Email : sylvesterm@wrc.org.za


Dr Joe Stevens
South African National Committee on Irrigation and Drainage (SANCID)
Department of Agricultural Economics
Extension and Rural Development
University of Pretoria
Private Bag X20, Hatfield, Pretoria, 0028

Email : Joe.Stevens@up.ac.za


Eng. Felix Britz Reinders
President, ICID
Manager, Irrigation and Drainage Engineering
ARC - Institute for Agricultural Engineering
Private Bag X 519
Pretoria, 0127

Tel : +27-12-842-4009
Fax : +27-12-804-0753
Email : reindersf@arc.agric.za


Mr. Davis S. van der Merwe
Vice President Hon., ICID

Email : francois@dwaf.gov.za


Mr. Felix Britz Reinders
Vice President Hon., ICID
For address see Sr. No. 5


Dr. Gerhard R. Backeberg
Vice President Hon., ICID
Director, Water Utilisation in Agriculture
Water Research Commission
Private Bag X03
0031 Gezina, Pretoria

Tel : +27 (012) 330-9043
Fax : +27 (012) 331-1136
Email : gerhardb@wrc.org.za


Mr. AT Van Coller
For address see Sr. No. 1

Email : smaes@nda.agric.za

Member - WG-SDRG


Dr. Michael van dar laan
University of Pretoria
Private Bag X20
Hatfield, Pretoria - 0028

Mob : 2731 508 7449
Email : michael.vanderlaan@sugar.org.za, michael.vanderlaan@up.ac.za

Vice Chair - WG-ENV


Dr. Gerhard R. Backeberg
Vice President Hon., ICID
Address as above

Member - WG-HIST


Dr. Sylvester Mpandeli
Water Research Commission
KSA 4: Water Utilisation in Agriculture
Marumati Building, Cnr Frederika
Rietfontein, Gezina

Tel : +012 3309047
Mob : 832604946
Email : sylvesterm@wrc.org.za

Vice Chair - AFRWG


Prof. Leon van Rensburg
Department of Soil, Crop and Climate
Sciences,University of the Free State
P O Box,339

Tel : 27 514 012957
Email : vrensbl@ufs.ac.za

Member - WG-NCWRI


Ms Puleng Mofokeng
c/o South African National Committee on
Irrigation and Drainage (SANCID)

Email : PulengM@daff.gov.za

Member - WG-M&R


Dr. Gerhard Backeberg
Vice President Hon., ICID
Address as above

Email : gerhardb@wrc.org.za

Member - WG-HIST


Prof. Aidan Senzanje
For Address See S.No. 1 Above.

Email : SenzanjeA@ukzn.ac.za, Senzanje@gmail.com

Provisional Member - WG-SDRG


Mrs. Mary Jean M. Gabriel
Water Use and Irrigation Development
141 Cresswell Road
Silverton 0127

Email : MaryJeanG@nda.agric.za

Chair - WG-IDM ; Member - WG-RWH, TF-MTD


Dr. Joe Stevens
For Address See S.No. 1 Above.

Email : joe.stevens@up.ac.za

Provisional Member - WG-WATS


Mr. Siboniso Phillip Mkhaliphi
For Address See S.No. 1 Above.

Email : msiboniso@yahoo.com

Provisional Member - WG-SON-FARM


Prof. Sue Walker
For Address See S.No. 1 Above.

Email : walkers@arc.agric.za



Mr. Jan Potgieter
For Address See S.No. 1 Above.

Email : janpo@daff.gov.za

Member - WG-M&R

Links of Interest
Country presentation during 66th IEC meeting, Montpellier, France, 2015 [PDF 5.11 MB]
ICID – Irrigation & Drainage in the World – A Global Review

Directory Contents..



1. Physiography


Located on the southern tip of Africa, the Republic of South Africa stretches between the longitude from 17º to 33ºE and latitude of 22º to 35ºS. Namibia bounds the country on the Northwest, while Botswana and Zimbabwe are located in the North, Mozambique and Swaziland are on the Northeast. Lesotho, a landlocked country, forms an enclave within the Republic of South Africa. The South Atlantic and the Indian Oceans wash the relatively unindented coastline some 2 800 km long, west and east respectively of the longitude 20ºE. The Republic has nine provinces - Northern Province, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape Province, Western Cape Province, North Cape Province, North West Province, Gauteng and Free State. The total land area of the Republic of South Africa is 122 341 km2.


Topographically South Africa may be divided into four zones, the Plateau, the Escarpment, the folded Mountains and the Coastal Plain.


The Plateau, or High Veldt, has the appearance of a tremendous plain, interrupted here and there by small mountains.

The Plateau, which comprises the major part of South Africa, is elevated about 1 200 m above sea level, rising to 1 800 m at the divide between the main drainage systems. South of the divide the rivers drain into the Orange River flowing westwards. The Limpopo is the main river north of the divide. It initially flows northwest, then north and eventually drains into the Indian Ocean on the eastern seaboard, as do the other long rivers of the north. Rivers rising at the edge of the escarpment are comparatively short and steep, and have formed deeply eroded canyons.


The escarpment varies in appearance according to the elevation and erosion. The most spectacular part is on the western border of KwaZulu-Natal, particularly on the Lesotho and Free State borders.


The Folded Mountains of the Western Cape Province separate two plateaux of lower elevation of 460 m and 600 - 900 m respectively, forming a step-wise approach to the central highlands.


The coastal plain varies greatly in width. In the south it is virtually non-existent but it widens on the western and eastern coasts.


According to the 1996 census, the total population of South Africa was 40,583,573. Out of the economically active population (aged 15 - 65 years) of 13,785,493, a total of 9,113,847 (or 66,1%) are employed. Amongst the employed, 814,350 (or 8.9%) are involved in agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing, of which 357,278 are considered to be skilled.

The GNP in South Africa was US$ 3160 in the year 1999.


2. Climate and rainfall


Approximately 86% of the area of the Republic of South Africa lies in the summer rainfall area. A narrow belt along the southern coast, some 4 million ha in extent, receives rain during all seasons. 13 million ha in the southern western corner have a Mediterranean climate with winter rainfall and a dry summer.


The rainfall decreases from east to west, from over 1 000 mm in the east to 50 - 100 mm in the Namib and Namaqualand areas in the west. Barely one third of the summer rainfall area receives more than 600 mm annual precipitation. This amount is close to the lower limit for successful rainfed crop production. An added agricultural hazard is the variable distribution of the rainfall, both within a particular season and between seasons.


The low-lying eastern coastal belt is hot and humid in summer. Because of the altitude, summer temperatures on the high inland plateau are generally lower than could be expected.


Winter temperatures in the interior often drop to below zero and frost is common.


Evaporation throughout most of South Africa is very high due to the semi-arid and arid conditions. The loss by evaporation from open water surfaces exceeds by far the average rainfall, ranging from 2 500 mm in the dry west to 1 500 mm in the more humid temperate regions.


Irrigation is an important factor in the production of permanent crops or in obtaining high yields from field crops. However, despite the limitations imposed by soil conditions, climate and topography, an outstanding characteristic of South African farming is its remarkable diversity.


3. Land resources


The total area of South Africa is 122,341,000 ha. Land use statistics are as follows:


&&149; Land area 122 341 000 ha.  
&&149; Land used for agronomic purposes:
Rainfed - 10,779,615 ha
Irrigated - 1,086, 358 ha
&&149; Land used for pasture crops: Rainfed 1,736,614 ha
Irrigated 209,351 ha
&&149; Natural extensive grazing areas: 83,928,062
&&149; Forest and woodland: 1,179,000 ha
&&149; Other land: 23,422,000 ha


Only 14% (17 million ha) of the total area of South Africa is suitable for rainfed crop production and a mere 3% of this area is high potential land. The area under forestry and peri-urban smallholdings accounts for some 3 million ha of the better soils, therefore the theoretical area for horizontal expansion is limited to some 200 000 ha. The soil mantle is highly complex and diverse with more than 70 soil forms. The wide range of soils in South Africa arose largely due to various soil-forming factors which depend on parent material, climate and topography.


The size of holdings is estimated to vary as follows:


Foodplots <0.25 ha
Small-scale 0.5 &&150; 10 ha
Medium- to large-scale
>20 ha


4. Water resources, irrigation and drainage


The average rainfall of South Africa is just over half of the world average. The rainfall is strongly seasonal and highly irregular in occurrence. As a consequence of the uneven rainfall distribution and the topography, more than 60% of the river flow arises from only 20% of the area. It is estimated that 9% of the country&&146;s precipitation finds its way as runoff into rivers and streams. The total internal renewable surface water resources are approximately 50 x 109m3/a, the maximum yield is 33.3 x 109m3/a and storage capacity of about 27 x 109m3/a has been created by construction of dams. Based on the present trends in water use and population growth, South Africa is expected to reach the limits of its economically usable, fresh water resources by the year 2030. Water requirements for irrigation are estimated at 10.7 x 109 m3/a or 53% of total water requirements of 20 x 109m3/a during 1996. In addition, the maximum annual yield of groundwater is 5.4 x 109m3 of which 2 x 109m3 is exploited and 80% is used for irrigation. The area under irrigation in 1996 was 1.3 million ha with a potential for expansion of a further 200 000 ha, given the available water resources. Included in this total irrigated area is an area of between 50 000 - 100 000 ha which is used for foodplot and smallholder farming on a large number of irrigation schemes. Of the current area under irrigation, 86.5% is classified as very suitable and suitable (class 1 and 2 soils).


5. Irrigation and Drainage


The distribution of irrigation capacity as in 1998 was that 15,000 medium and large-scale commercial farmers irrigated around 1.3 million hectares divided into :

  • 550,000 ha - Private schemes developed by owners to extract water directly from weirs, boreholes and farm dams; and for which there is no water charge at present.
  • 400,000 ha - Irrigation board schemes which are privately managed but frequently were developed with Government grants and subsidised loans. In future these schemes will be managed by water user associations (WUAs).
  • 350,000 ha - Government schemes which were built and operated by the Government. Operating costs are charged to farmers at a subsidised rate. The membership of these schemes will be transferred to WUAs also in due course.
  • 75,000 ha - Distributed among 40 000 small-scale farmers. These schemes are operating below capacity and will be handed over to WUAs a small hectarage of micro-scale schemes with gardens and community plots.

Water used for production of crops, industry, horticulture, pasture and forage crops. Most of the crops are also grown in smallholder agriculture. Stabilisation of variable rainfall through irrigation is conspicuously more important for high income crops such as potatoes, vegetables, grapes, fruit and tobacco. Although grain and oilseed crops can be effectively grown under rainfed conditions, they will remain part of crop combinations under irrigation for production of seed and as rotational crops to maintain soil productivity. Pastures and forages form an important component of the fodder flow programme for dairying and sustain extensive livestock production in arid zones.


In all the irrigated areas to the extent of 6 to 26% of soils have become waterlogged and salt-affected. The extent of the problem is noteworthy because except one province, the area with high water tables and salinity levels is more than the area of risky soils (class 3 soils).


Brief history of irrigation development


Irrigation development in South Africa can be divided into three broad phases. It must, however, be emphasized that these phases overlap, as do the involvement of private and public organisations who have undertaken the development:


Phase 1: Individual diversion schemes


In the period up to 1875, water resource development for irrigation was done on private initiative. Small-scale utilization was undertaken without government assistance. This first phase of individual weir-diversion or pump schemes is characterized by a subsistence economy; limited and distant markets; and little incentives for capital investment. Whereever natural circumstances were favourable, water was abstracted from rivers.


Phase 2 : Co-operative flood diversion schemes


An active policy with the objective to promote irrigation started in the then Cape Colony. A twofold strategy of obligatory collaboration between producers, and provisions to grant unsubsidized loans for individual or co-operative weir-diversion and flood irrigation schemes, followed as in the second phase. This was facilitated by means of legislation promulgated in 1877, which is accepted as the beginning of modern irrigation in South Africa. However, development of co-operative flood schemes was slow. Although measures were taken to make loans more attractive, irrigation development only gained momentum after 1906, following an economic improvement brought about by the demand for ostrich feathers as a fashion article. Ostriches are adapted to a dry climate and require permanent pastures such as lucerne under irrigation. The considerable expansion of co-operative flood irrigation schemes was of short duration, mainly because of declining markets between 1914 and 1916. This coincided with a severe drought and all the land was not cultivated, which culminated in an inability to repay irrigation loans.


Phase 3 : Public storage schemes


At the beginning of the third phase it was explicitly recognized that unreliable rainfall and variable river flow necessitates water storage for regular irrigation of crops. A range of field, industrial and horticultural crops such as wheat, tobacco, cotton and citrus were included. The aspiration to store flood waters and the expected ability of farmers to finance capital expenditure due to improved markets for staple crops, led to a change in policy during 1920. Storage was specifically considered essential on co-operative flood schemes already established or in the process for full water application. In addition, unused potential could be harnessed through water storage in summer rainfall areas for use for supplementary irrigation during critical growth periods.


Problem experienced was the low population in relation to the area irrigated. It was realized that irrigation schemes cannot succeed without irrigators or people on the land. This led to the strategy of establishing settlers on co-operative schemes and impoverished people on the government initiated irrigation settlements. In view of the continued inability of settlers to repay irrigation loans, the financing strategy was changed to writing off loans, partial subsidization of private and co-operative schemes and total subsidization of public schemes.


The development of storage schemes was backed by the broad objective of utilization of water resources for future agricultural development and prosperity of society.


These phases of irrigation development are linked with the phases of economic development: Private irrigation schemes were dominant during the agricultural phase; co-operative schemes were implemented during the agricultural-mining phase; and government settlement schemes below public storage dams coincide with the agricultural-mining-industrial phase.


As anticipated, the emphasis in water policy gradually shifted away from irrigation towards industrial development. This is illustrated by replacement of the Irrigation and Water Conservation Act of 1912 with the Water Act of 1956 and change of functions and name of the Department of Irrigation to the Department of Water Affairs.


Statistics relating to irrigation

Total area irrigated (ha)
231 362
318 767
736 932
1 290 132
1 300 000


Policies for Water Resources Development


Following the democratic elections in 1994 a total reform of water policy and water legislation was undertaken. A completely new National Water Act was proclaimed in South Africa on October 1, 1998. Key elements and principles of the new Act are:

  • The water resources in South Africa are a national asset;
  • National Government will act as the custodian of the nation&&146;s water resources.
  • All water in the water cycle, be it surface or groundwater, will be treated as part of the common resource.
  • Water required to meet basic human needs and to maintain environmental sustainability will be guaranteed as a right. This will be known as the Reserve.
  • The legitimate requirements of neighbouring countries will have priority over uses other than the Reserve.
  • Uses other than the Reserve will be recognised only if they are beneficial in the public interest.
  • The allocation of water will have the objective of achievement of equitable and sustainable economic and social development.
  • Investments in infrastructure for water use, made by the user, will be taken into consideration when water allocations are made.
  • The riparian system of allocation of water, in which riparian land has a right to use water, is being abolished.
  • Water user allocations are no longer permanent, but will be given for a reasonable period.
  • The efficient use and the conservation of water will be promoted by the Act.

The main points on the action agenda, which can be highlighted, are as follows :

  • Achieving policy goals of social equity, economic efficiency, financial and environmental sustainability.
  • Recognizing existing lawful water use, or in legal terms, water use which is &&147;beneficial in the public interest&&148;.
  • Phasing out subsidies and recovering costs directly or indirectly from beneficiaries.
  • Establishing black smallholders to improve household food security and reduce poverty.
  • Implementing water conservation and demand management strategies.
  • Registering all existing lawful water use, to enable the Department to manage water resources, to ensure fair share allocation, to protect the environment and to charge for water use.
  • Issuing licences for water use, starting with the most water stressed areas.

6. ICID and South Africa


South Africa joined the ICID family in 1992 and has been actively associating itself with ICID activities in Africa as well as at the international level. The 51st IEC meeting was held in Cape Town in October 2000. Dr. Gerhard R. Backeberg is the Vice President, ICID. Mr David S van der Merwe (1997-2000) and Mr. Felix Britz Reinders (2005-2008) were Vice Presidents of ICID. SANCID is being actively represented in ICID workbodies.

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