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Agriculture in South Africa  

Agriculture was less than 4 % of GDP in South Africa in 2003 employing only 8 % of the workforce (Aquastat South Africa 2010).   According to the 2009 World Development Indicators, 63% of annual freshwater withdrawals in South Africa are for agriculture (World Bank 2010). Comparatively, demand within the Limpopo River basin is slightly less with approximately 49 % of the basin demand in South Africa from irrigation, as noted in Water Use and Allocation (LBPTC 2010).

The Limpopo River basin in South Africa roughly covers four national water management areas (WMAs):

  • Limpopo
  • Luvuvhu and Letaba
  • Crocodile (West) and Marico
  • Olifants

The table below outlines characteristics of agriculture in each of the WMAs.

Agriculture in South Africa Water Management Areas (WMAs) in the Limpopo River basin.

South African Water


Area (WMA)

Crocodile (West) and Marico
  • Scattered dry land cultivation
  • Extensive irrigation along main watercourses
  • Mainly under natural vegetation with livestock and game farming
  • Areas of rainfed agriculture in Central/Southern areas
  • Irrigation occurs throughout
  • Commercial forests in Soutpansberg area
  • Most of the area under natural vegetation, livestock & game farming
Luvuvhu and Letaba
  • Mostly irrigated agriculture and afforestation based
  • Livestock farming, serious overgrazing in large areas
  • Dominated by rain-fed agriculture in the south and northwest
  • Extensive irrigation in certain areas along rivers
  • Most under natural vegetation for livestock and game farming and conservation, severe overgrazing prevalent in many areas
  • Afforestation in higher rainfall areas (e.g. Upper Blyde valley)
Source: DWAF 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2003d

Within each WMA, both crop production and livestock and game farming is prevalent. Similar to much of the rest of southern Africa, irrigation typically occurs across the region (in each WMA).  Maize is the chief staple, and the nation’s main farm export, but annual harvests fluctuate sharply due to frequent droughts (Aquastat South Africa 2010). Other major crops include sugar cane, wheat, potatoes, groundnuts, citrus fruits and grapes.  

In terms of livestock agriculture, natural pasture covers approximately two thirds of the country and supports sheep, cattle, and other stock animals.

South Africa WMAs in the Limpopo River basin.
Source: DWA South Africa
( click to enlarge )
Agricultural practices in the Olifants sub-basin in South Africa.
Source: LIMCOM 2009
( click to enlarge )



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