The world’s water challenges are to a large extent, the world’s sustainable food production challenges. The agricultural sector consumes significant amounts of water at a low cost, as can be seen in the graphs below. It is important that certain water management principals must be in place to make sure water will be there for the future farmers of South Africa. 


Figure 1: Water sources in South Africa[1] (DWS 2017)

Figure 2: Water use in South Africa (DWS 2019)

Figure 3: Financial value of water sales by sector (GreenCape 2017)

In South Africa water is a critical resource for which there is growing competition between the urban, industrial and agriculture sectors. The National Water Act (NWA) of 1998 states fresh water should be used efficiently. The NWA prioritises water use for basic human needs and for protecting aquatic eco-systems, with agriculture having a lower priority. Nonetheless, agriculture is of high economic importance as it contributes to food security, income from exports, employment and ensures that people are able to make a living. 

Water is a key requirement and input into the agricultural value chain. Resources to assist with understanding water in agriculture is provided under the following headings:

[1] 'Return flows' refers to water that is used and then recycled


Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) 2017a. Strategic overview of the water sector in South Africa 2017. Pretoria, South African Government. Available from:

Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) 2019a. The national water and sanitation master plan (NW&SMP), Final report (November 2019). Pretoria, South African Government. Available from:

GreenCape 2017. Water Market Intelligence Report 2017. Available from: