Some good news of the past few days has been that South Africa will once again be exporting maize. The reason is that we had good rains over the maize growing areas.
During 2015 and 2016, South Africa imported maize because of drought conditions. This year, the national Crop Estimation Committee (CEC) has estimated a record crop of 15.63-million tons. Domestic consumption is estimated at 10.5-million tons, which will leave 5.13-million tons for export.
Those differences are dramatic – going from being an importer of maize for two years to exporting 5.13-million tons this year. What is the cause of this dramatic turnaround? Well, the answer is simple – rain; put more simply – water. What this all clearly shows is that, if the maize growing areas are guaranteed abundant water, we will have over five-million tons of maize to export every year. So, all we have to do is get the water . . . to earn the foreign currency.
People have always relied on Mother Nature to provide the rain. But we all know that, being female, Mother Nature does not always do what we want or expect. So, we have to find another source of water that is not rain.
Contrary to many comments, South Africa is a water-rich country. We have all the water we want. It is found along two of the nation’s borders, called the Indian and Atlantic oceans. The main snag is that all this bountiful water has salt in it. So, we have to take the salt out. That is called desalination.
The best way to do desalination on a large scale is to use nuclear reactors – and we can do that. Then we could guarantee the continuous irrigation of the maize lands. We could then be guaranteed five-million tons of maize to export every year. In fact, the export quantity would rapidly increase – way above five-million tons.
Right now, when a farmer plants, there is the ‘casino element’ involved. This means gambling. A friend of mine is just such a farmer and we have talked about the ‘casino element’ before. When a planting cycle starts, the farmer has to buy a huge quantity of fertiliser and then plough and mix the fertiliser into the ground. By that point, a lot of money would have been spent. The farmer then has to buy maize seed – again, a large expense. Those major decisions are ‘casino’ in that it is a gamble as to whether the farmer will get his money back.
Then the largest gamble comes into play: Will there be enough rain, at the right time?
Imagine if the rain gamble was no longer a gamble. Imagine if water quantity was guaranteed. That would mean that water timing was also guaranteed. That would then remove the fertiliser gamble and the planting gamble. A farmer could do calculations about how much to plant, based on the area of his land, his workforce and his machinery.
Such farmers would then plant the maximum. What is more, other farmers who never grew maize before would plant maize. That would be people like cattle farmers who had some spare hectares but did not want the extra financial risk of planting maize.
Of course, cattle farmers would also be guaranteed water for cattle and cattle feed, if the water supply were guaranteed. Bluntly, guaranteed water would change much of agriculture from a ‘casino’-based activity into a much more predictable endeavour.
South Africa has for years pumped petrol and diesel from Durban to Johannesburg. So, pumping water from the coast to various points is no big technological challenge. Nuclear reactors can provide the water, as well as the electricity to pump the water. Why do we not do it?
Reliable water would allow all sorts of smaller agriculture-related plants to start up near the major agricultural areas. They would be plants like bottling or canning plants, or other agriculture produce processing.
We need to think big, and we need to think into the future. After all, the future is not what it used to be.