Bulk infrastructure should be the focus for SA as climate change bites

Researchers at Trade & Industry Policies (Tips) advocate for South Africa to pursue an adaptive approach to climate change. Not only will the country help mitigate its impact and adapt as necessary, but the small business sector can benefit.

The United Nations (UN) warns that as climate change worsens, the growing heat risk on workers in agriculture and other sectors will cause a productivity loss equal to 80 million full-time jobs over the next decade.

Tips research advocates for water, food and energy as the focus to grow SMMEs.


Water is a scare commodity in South Africa. And while the agriculture sector is its biggest user, very little is being done to introduce smart water technology. Tips says more than R700bn is required from 2017-2027 to upgrade, rehabilitate and enhance water infrastructure. But this climbs to around R900bn when sanitation is included. 

“While the potential of additional irrigation is limited in the country, as water extraction for irrigation is already exceeding rates of replenishment, most existing schemes are not operating optimally. According to the National Development Plan (NDP), improved and efficient use of existing water resources could allow the expansion of irrigated land by at least 500 000 hectares. There can also be fit-for purpose irrigation solutions, such as the use of non-toxic semi-treated, recycled water for specific crop types,” the researchers say.

GreenCape, which was established in 2010 to support the growth of the green economy in the Western Cape, says there is an opportunity to supply water-efficient irrigation technology to farmers, with more than 100 million metres of dripper lines sold each year. Innovative drip irrigation systems suitable for various soils, as well as highly energy- and water-efficient solutions are particularly suited. 

An example cited is the online tool FruitLook, which has resulted in notable financial benefits for the province’s fruit and grape growers as they are able to access satellite-based information that improves water usage and crop productivity. Another new irrigation system called Tree Hog can reduce an orchard’s water consumption by up to 70% because it combines both micro and drip irrigation.

Tips says rainwater harvesting offers important market opportunities. Such solutions can replace about 30% of domestic consumption catering for irrigation, and the washing of clothes and dishes. In addition, such solutions offer downstream economic opportunities.

“With a properly designed system, this can include potable water. Business opportunities include manufacturing, selling and installing household and office rooftop rainwater harvesting systems.

“The South African government has been rolling out water harvesting technology to resource poor farmers. This has boosted demand for the various components, such as water tanks. About R33.5 million was allocated for rainwater harvesting in the 2016/17 national budget to help less-resourced farmers,” it says.

Water tank manufacturers, such as Eco Tanks and JoJo Tanks, were in high demand during the drought in the province. Jojo was reportedly selling about 1 000 tanks a day.

Another key market is the reduction of non-revenue water – the volume of water supplied by the water utilities which receives no income. Water leakages due to aging infrastructure result in a loss of around R5.5 billion a year just for the metros. Tips says small businesses can be supported by adopting new technologies to detect leaks, replacing old infrastructure, improve billing systems, and adopt smart metering. 

The market in this space is huge – equipment spending in South Africa on automation/control, tests and meters, is expected to grow from US$265 million (R3, 746bn) last year to US$324 million (R4, 580bn) in 2022. In sanitation South Africa needs to spend an estimated US$1.4 billion (R19, 790bn) to meet the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. About 40% of water consumed in the country’s households is used just to flush toilets.

“There has been increased focus on promoting the wider adoption of water-efficient sanitation systems.  In this regard, there are both high-tech systems that are relatively costly and low-tech systems which are more affordable solutions. Small businesses can easily harness opportunities in the provision of low-tech solutions which might require lower capital outlay,” says Tips.

Numerous low-tech solutions are emerging. The innovations developed by start-up Loo Afrique propose to optimise the use of water for sanitation in rural and poor areas by, for example, turning the toilet cap into a basin.

Case study: Rori Mpete – Thinking outside the box, retrofitting water saving in conventional waterborne sanitation systems

There are already government programmes in place creating opportunities for small businesses to participate in this space. They include the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) programme, which aims to provide innovative, safe ablution facilities at nearly 4 000 mostly rural and township schools that only have pit latrines or other inappropriate sanitation facilities. The report says this is an important entry point with multiple benefits.


Tips advocates for small business to become involved in climate-smart agriculture (CSA), which in South Africa is based on organic farming, agro-ecology and conservation agriculture. 

AB Farms in Westonaria Agri-Parks, in western Gauteng, is one of the leading start-ups in the country for hydroponics, while GreenCape has reported a hike in the uptake of conservation agriculture in South Africa, primarily among grain and maize farmers.

GreenCape estimates that the market for no-till planting machinery in the country is worth R1.1 billion, with opportunities for local manufacturing, as the sector is still dominated by imported machinery that is not well suited for the country’s soil conditions.

“Increasingly, information and communication technologies are being integrated to promote CSA.  For instance, MySmartFarm uses latest software applications, intelligent models, and machine learning to enhance farm management and productivity by availing agricultural information, optimising decision, and better resource use.”

Case study: Wolfgang von Loeper – Sustainable farming, ensuring food security while preserving the planet