Professor Graham Jewitt (third right) with visiting
international scientists.

The Centre for Water Resource Research (CWRR) in the School of Engineering and the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), hosted a group of international scientists at a recent workshop as part of the Belmont Forum and Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change.

The group, whose networking endeavours are being led by Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, is involved in discussions around the topic of hydro-social and environmental impacts of sugarcane production on land use and food security – an international programme to foster trans-disciplinary science, networking and community building.

Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resources Management at UKZN, Professor Graham Jewitt, is one of the collaborators on the project and acted as host for the visit assisted by UKZN’s Mr Simphiwe Ncgobo.

International participants were from Cranfield University in the United Kingdom; the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex; the San Diego State University; California State University; University of Wisconsin; US Geological Survey  in the United States; the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, ICRISAT in India and Booker Tate in the UK.

The project encourages a holistic approach integrating agronomic, climatic, environmental and socio-economic knowledge. The various researchers have expertise in agricultural systems, land use modelling, social science, climate impact assessment, rural resource economics, GIS, remote sensing and spatial modelling for decision-making.

The CWRR was invited to join the consortium on the basis of their expertise in the water resources impacts of land use change in southern Africa and their experience in associated policy development in South Africa.

The focus on sugarcane production in the group is one that is seen as important in terms of economic development, food security and land use change because of the crop’s importance in emerging economies like southern Africa, Brazil and India.

The workshop consisted of sessions where plans for the drafting of a global review on the positive and negative effects of sugarcane production were made. The participants discussed questions of sustainable development of sugarcane as an important crop.

The group had the opportunity to visit sites in the field for a day during the course of the workshop. The field trip was organised with the assistance of the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) and included a visit to sugarcane farmers and a sugar mill. Jewitt said that the field trip proved valuable for the group, particularly as it exposed them to dry-land cultivation of sugarcane as opposed to just irrigated cultivation.

The research they are undertaking aims to highlight the hydro-social and environmental challenges facing sustainable sugarcane production following increased demand for sugarcane operations and the effects this will have on land use, climate change, food security, water demand and local and regional economic development.

The project aims to cultivate trans-disciplinary scientific research in this area through networking and community building. Increased demand for sugarcane production is global and therefore has a global effect, making an international team of scientists appropriate for the research being conducted in Brazil, India and South Africa, where agriculture (particularly in sugarcane) is a foundation of the economy and livelihoods for many.

The workshop, which is one of two planned during the research partnership, afforded the participants many opportunities to find ways of collaborating beyond just this project. Jewitt hopes the network will prove useful and build on the development of long-term collaborative research projects.

The group will meet again later this year to finalise their work on the global review.