Geographical Association

Join the GA

The leading subject association for all teachers of geography

Images of Southern Africa - Irrigation project

Irrigation Project, Herzog-Fairburn

South Africa has a broad agricultural sector and is a net food exporter in most years. About 15 million hectares, or 12% of the land area, is under cultivation and about 10% of this is under intensive irrigation.

Under apartheid, white farmers controlled more than 80% of the arable land. There were similar discrepancies in farm size: white-owned farms averaged 1300 hectares, whereas black-owned farms averaged 5.2 hectares. With nearly 80% of the population restricted to less than 20% of the land, most land farmed by blacks was severely overused. This led to soil erosion and low productivity. As a result many black farming families were supported by at least one person engaged in non-agricultural employment.

Cereal and grain are South Africa’s most important crops - occupying more than 60% of area under cultivation in the 1990s. Maize (corn), the country's most important crop, is a dietary staple, a source of livestock feed and an export crop. As with all non-irrigated crops, maize production is closely related to the amount of rainfall. In years of good rainfall, production exceeds 10 million tonnes; in poor years it can be as low as 3 million tonnes. Production in 2002-03 was, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 9.2 million tonnes. Maize yields were 2.6 tonnes per hectare - relatively high for a less developed country.

The dry winter of 2003-04 was preceded by a period of below-average rainfall in summer 2003. This has left soil moisture, groundwater and reservoir levels much lower than normal. As a result production in 2004 is likely to be below average, necessitating considerable imports of grain.

Fruit, including grapes for wine, bring in up to 40% of agricultural export earnings. Over 100,000 hectares are planted with vineyards, and one of the most obvious signs of the end of international sanctions was a dramatic increase in demand for South African wines after 1994.

The photograph shows a drip-feed irrigation system in the Herzog-Fairburn area being used to grow cabbages for the commercial market. This project is one of several being run by a local black community co-operative with funding from the European Union. The community buys the seedlings and sells the cabbages to a retailer who then sells them in local markets.

Ideas for further exploration:

  • In what ways is the EU-funded irrigation project an example of aid money being used positively?
  • Why is drip-feed irrigation more efficient that flow irrigation where water is pumped from a nearby river or lake?
  • In what ways might schemes such as this one help improve the quality of life of members of the local community?
  • Why do you think the community has decided to grow crops such as cabbages, strawberries or flowers, rather than maize?

<<< back to image menu

Comment on this page

Comments made by GA members appear instantly and don't require security words to be entered - make sure you're logged in!   Guest comments will be sent to a moderator for approval.

GA members can add a profile picture and their comments appear instantly

Join the GA

Please complete all fields

Page Tags

Farming Food Africa River

Journals - Free Access for GA Members

The Autumn 2014 issue of Primary Geography focuses on geography out of the classroom.

The Autumn 2014 Teaching Geography focuses on teaching about places.

The Autumn 2014 issue of Geography

Online Shop - Up to 30% Discount for all GA Members

Collins Junior World Atlas (Third edition)

£9.99 / £8.99 *

Add to basket

KS3 Geography Teachers’ Toolkit. Introducing India: What ar..

£18.99 / £13.99 *

Add to basket

KS3 Geography Teachers’ Toolkit. The Role of Stones: How do ..

£18.99 / £13.99 *

Add to basket

Global Energy Security (DVD)

£61.99 / £50.99 *

Add to basket

Debating Energy Futures: Coal, Gas and Nuclear (DVD)

£61.99 / £50.99 *

Add to basket
<-- -->

Your shopping basket is empty.

Items in basket 0

Basket Total £0.00

View/Edit Basket

* Applies to Full Personal, Group and
Concessionary members only

Resource Finder

Enter a keyword below or click 'advanced search' for more options

Advanced Search

Resources section
  • Find out more
  • Visit the Fourth Global Conference on Economic Geography 2015 homepage
  • Advertisement:
  • Visit the Discover the World website for geography resources

© Copyright The Geographical Association 2013

Charity No: 1135148 Company No: 07139068

Website design and development by Ledgard Jepson