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I have been learning a lot about water stewardship, especially on dairy farms. On reflection, I have become convinced that all of us need to become better stewards of our freshwater resources as it a tricky commodity, always high in demand and low in supply. This is due to the ever-increasing water risk in South Africa, mainly because of the associated water scarcity and stress on this precious non-renewable resource1. This is why we should all be stewards of water.

What does it mean to be a water steward?

Water stewardship is defined as being the use of freshwater that is “socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves site and catchment-based actions”1.

So, where do you, as the farmer, start? First and foremost, by monitoring how much water is being used on your farm to produce a litre of milk. You can do this by using the water use efficiency tool (Read Blog: Better water use efficiency can result in better profitability). Secondly, by identifying your water risks – which are any water-related events that can have a negative impact on production2. Thirdly, by identifying your farm’s water opportunities – where and how water can be used more efficiently? These could range from better irrigation scheduling to rainwater harvesting or something as simple as fixing leaks on the farm.

Being a true water steward means looking beyond your fence. You also need to evaluate the impact your practices are having on your neighbours. Do your effluent dams overflow from time to time and eventually end up in freshwater resources? How can such events be prevented in future? These are some of the questions that can be asked to improve your water use habits.

To conclude, it is important to remember that dairy farms differ from each other.  It is important that every farmer understands the water risks they are facing, and decides to contribute to sustainable management of the communal resource that is water3. In this way you will be good water steward.


  1. (Accessed 18 August 2016)
  2. (Accessed 18 August 2016)
  3. (Accessed 30 August 2016)