The South African Breweries Hop Farms (SABHF) and World Wildlife Fund South Africa (WWF-SA) have begun an intensive alien vegetation clearing programme in the Outeniqua Mountain catchment areas of Waboomskraal and Herold in the Western Cape where a large number of hop producing farms are located.
The aim is to clear at least 2 800 hectares of alien species (2 200ha in Waboomskraal and 600ha in Herold), namely black wattle, hakea (hakea sericea) and pine (Pinus sp.), which combined are causing water loss of between 13% and 20% per annum in neighbouring dams being starved of water run-off from the catchment areas. These dams are a critical source of water for independent hop farmers in the area, as well as for SABHF which is dependent on them for irrigation purposes.
Apart from the water loss, the catchment areas are located in critical ecological corridors identified for promoting ecological integrity, connectivity and ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change, making the presence of alien vegetation a further threat.
In addition, natural scientific occurrences further exacerbate the loss of water caused by alien vegetation in that rainfall in the Outeniqua area is orographic resulting in frontal rain clouds becoming trapped on the coastal side of the mountain and starving the catchment areas on the opposite ‘shaded’ area of water.
According to Lauren Steytler, General Manager SABHF, alien species in the two catchment areas of Waboomskraal and Herold sap approximately 3-million m3 (cubic metres) of water per year, reducing the run-off to surrounding dams, which need to be filled during the dormant season between May and August.
“The spread of invasive alien trees which use more water than indigenous vegetation is a serious threat to the ecological integrity of the two areas. The focus of the initiative is therefore to restore their natural hydrological and ecological functionality, ” says Steytler.
Hop growing is a water intensive process requiring a large amount of water per hectare each growing season between November and March. SABHF covers approximately 405 hectares of land in George with 50% of the water required received from direct rainfall and the other half from irrigation.
Steytler says that if left unchecked, Waboomskraal and Herold could reach full potential invasion in the next 6 to 17 years further reducing water run-off into dams by up to 45%. And the dwindling availability of water could result in the loss of at least 47ha of hops land.
A study done in collaboration with SAB, WWF and GIZ, found that more than 80% of water required in the beer making process is used in the production of raw materials, namely barley, hops and maize. Therefore, reducing the amount of water used in the supply chain is intrinsic to SAB’s strategic sustainable development focus and several innovative interventions have been implemented to achieve optimal results in this area for the benefit of the organisation and communities in which it operates.
The alien vegetation clearing initiative is one of these innovative interventions and is aligned to SAB’s targeted approach towards building sustainable local communities. Prosper, SAB’s global sustainable development framework highlights tangible targets to be achieved by SAB over the next five years in the areas of responsible alcohol consumption, securing water resources, reducing waste and carbon emissions, supporting small enterprises, including emerging farmers and support of responsible and sustainable land use for brewing crops such as hops, barley and maize.
According to the WWF-SA, the alien vegetation clearing project has had a positive socio-economic impact on the nearby city of Oudtshoorn and Thembalethu where water scarcity has been identified as a major constraint to growth and development. At least 138 previously unemployed people, mostly women and youth, have been employed on a full time basis to assist with the removal of alien species.
Furthermore, vegetation removed from the two sites is re-used for nearby community household purposes and investigations are underway to determine the potential to use it for the production of alternative fuel.
Steytler says that various vegetation spray techniques and follow-up clearing will ensure alien species re-growth is kept to a minimum and eventually eradicated. Indigenous vegetation will naturally grow to replace these.