Water and Ecoclogical Partnerships in the sugarcane belt

Dr Marilyn Govender and Sam Maphumulo


Nature Delivering Services

A healthy environment consists of a functioning ecosystem that provides valuable services to people such as: fresh water, climate regulation, soil formation and disaster risk reduction, also known to be a functioning ecological infrastructure. Ecological infrastructure (EI) supports rural development – as key elements of EI are located in rural areas. Restoring and maintaining EI contributes to diversifying rural livelihood options, creates jobs and also strengthens sectors such as sustainable farming. We have only scratched the surface of the potential jobs that could be created from investing in EI, many of which would be in rural areas. The Green Jobs report by the IDC (2011) highlighted that the bulk of jobs related to green economy would likely come from natural resource management.

According to South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), investing in EI is a low-cost high-return development strategy with multiple social, economic and environmental gains. To unlock the potential of EI we need to scale up investments in restoring and maintaining ecological infrastructure, build on natural resource management programmes and plan and manage our EI networks strategically.

Investment in EI contributes to water security, through flood and drought impact reduction and by reducing excessive loss of water through evaporation. The co-dependency between water and EI has culminated in the much needed shared value, collective action partnerships being created in KwaZulu-Natal, with the intent of investing in ecological infrastructure and promoting water stewardship. 

The WWF Scenarios for the Future of Water in South Africa (2017) 

Verbatim - “Water directly affects South Africa’s socioeconomic development, but it is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. Based on current usage trends, South Africa is expected to face a water deficit of 17% by 2030, and this shortage will only be worsened by climate change. Because water is a shared resource, we are all at risk; therefore, it is critical to understand our impact on water and incorporate water management into our daily lives…. 

How can we prepare for and take action to reverse South Africa’s water crisis? This question should be on the mind of every responsible leader in the public, private, and social sectors. As a critical human need and essential to our economy, water concerns every South African. South Africa is approaching physical water scarcity by 2025, and its socioeconomic development has been directly hampered by the recent drought. The drought has taken its toll on the agriculture sector… 

As water is a shared resource with many stakeholders, it is a shared opportunity and shared risk for everyone, whether in the public, private or social sectors. Collective action plays a vital role in building a sustainable water future for all stakeholders. By collaborating to mitigate risks, seize opportunities, as well as preserve and maintain this valuable shared resource, we can create a water secure future for South Africa. These actions focus on what can be achieved in partnerships between civil society, the public and private sectors.”

Umngeni Ecological Infrastructure Programme (UEIP)

The internationally recognised Umngeni Ecological Infrastructure Programme (UEIP) stemmed from the proposal made by SANBI to Ethekwini Metropolitan Municipality to invest in EI to support engineering solutions in the highly stressed Umngeni catchment. The UEIP evolved around a common vision to maintain and rehabilitate EI, support collaborate water governance measures and water security, and to augment and enhance the efficiency of engineered infrastructure. 

The UEIP has six main objectives in their goal for collaborative catchment management which includes:

  • Strategic investments in EI contributing to enhanced water security in the Umngeni catchment
  • Improved governance contributing to slowing the rate of degradation of EI and enhancing the sustainability of investments in EI
  • Strengthened institutional capacity for the rehabilitation, maintenance and protection of EI
  • An enabling policy environment for investment in the rehabilitation and management of EI in the catchment
  • An improved knowledge base on EI that informs policy and practice
  • Effective collaboration, coordination and co-learning that enables the UEIP to consolidate, grow and demonstrate its value.

The UEIP aims to continue to partner with the business sector by investing in strategies that will ensure efficient water use and protection of aquatic ecosystems; commitment to environmental sustainability and long-term maintenance, restoration and rehabilitation of EI; co-developing innovative solutions to enhance water security and ensure reliable and affordable water supply; harnessing the potential to create entrepreneurs and improve employment opportunities; changing behaviour towards efficient water use; incentives for efficient water use; business making themselves resilient – looking at creative solutions to water security challenges and; economic activities in water. 

The UEIP Coordinator Pearl Gola ( may be contacted on how to become involved in the UEIP.

The uMhlathuze Water Stewardship Partnership (UWASP)

Stakeholders within the water stressed Mhlathuze catchment have recognised the need for focused collective action towards improving water resource management and water availability for all water users. This collective action includes business, industry, government, NGOs and the uMhlathuze community. 

Key water users within the catchment includes industry hub in Richards Bay and Port Users and the agricultural and forestry water users in the ttu catchment. UWASP is still in its infancy compared to UEIP, however much of its partnership creation phase activities have already have been completed, which includes endorsement by the Department of Water and Sanitation.

The partnership has agreed on prioritised interventions for the next two years which include: 

  • Large-scale water efficiency, leak reduction and water demand management across domestic, commercial and industrial users
  • Large-scale alien invasive vegetation clearing (outside of WfW priority areas), in collaboration with landowners and FPAs, with emphasis on local employment
  • Capacity building, focusing on key technical aspects (specifically on the effective management of water releases from the Goedertrouw Dam); and community involvement and support for local environmental champions (community awareness, reporting leaks, water quality issues and sewage overflows, pollution prevention etc.)
  • Implementation of agricultural water efficiency within sugarcane, nut and fruit growers (drip irrigation, advanced metering)
  • Support for the raising of the Goedertrouw Dam Wall (via Reconciliation Strategy)Alex McNamara ( ), Programme Manager: Climate & Water, NBI may be contacted for further information on UWASP.

SASA is committed to promoting sustainable practices in the SA sugar industry, creating awareness amongst industry members of shared value, collective action partnerships and supporting opportunities that invest in our invaluable natural resource WATER! 

Dr Marilyn Govender, Natural Resources Manager, External Affairs Division, SASA.  

Sam Maphumulo, Natural Resources Intern, External Affairs Division, SASA.