Emerg­ing farm­ers must utilise the new on­line wa­ter li­cence sys­tem,writes Themba Khu­malo

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

The roll­out of e-WULAAS, the Wa­ter Use li­cence Ap­pli­ca­tion and Ad­min­is­tra­tion Sys­tem, has opened the doors to eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties par­tic­u­larly for emerg­ing farm­ers who have had lit­tle ac­cess to wa­ter for agri­cul­tural use in the past. The new sys­tem al­lows com­mer­cial en­ti­ties to re­move the bu­reau­cratic bar­ri­ers and ap­ply for wa­ter use li­cence on­line and be ap­proved in less than a year.

In the past, be­cause of the bu­reau­cratic pro­cesses through the old sys­tem of phys­i­cally sub­mit­ting ap­pli­ca­tion doc­u­ments, it took be­tween two to three years be­fore an ap­pli­cant was given the op­er­at­ing li­cence for his en­trepreneur­ship.

In terms of the Na­tional Wa­ter Act, ev­ery com­mer­cial en­tity in South Africa is re­quired to ob­tain a wa­ter use li­cence from the de­part­ment of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion as a mea­sure of con­trol­ling the ram­pant use of the pre­cious scarce re­source.

How­ever, black farm­ers – through the African Farm­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa (Afasa) – have been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal about the com­plex bu­reau­cratic process they were sub­jected to be­fore they were is­sued with the req­ui­site wa­ter use li­cence. In­vari­ably, this has had a neg­a­tive im­pact and has ham­pered their abil­ity to be pro­duc­tive in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor.

Dur­ing an over­sight visit to Mopani in Lim­popo last month, mem­bers of the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion were par­tic­u­larly an­gry to find that emerg­ing farm­ers had lit­tle or no ac­cess to wa­ter to grow their crops.

The Mopani re­gion is a rich citrus area, with an abun­dance of paw paws and ba­nanas, but the in­dus­try is al­most ex­clu­sively, dom­i­nated by white com­mer­cial farm­ers who are mak­ing a killing through do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional ex­ports.

Black farm­ers, on the other hand, have be­come spec­ta­tors in the spec­ta­cle as they are strug­gling to ob­tain wa­ter use li­cences from gov­ern­ment.

It is for this rea­son that the port­fo­lio com­mit­tee took ex­cep­tion to the per­cep­tion that when it comes to eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment, emerg­ing farm­ers seem to have been pushed to the pe­riph­ery in Mopani and, in­deed, through­out the coun­try.

Mem­bers of the com­mit­tee also vis­ited an area where a white farmer was said to be de­lib­er­ately di­vert­ing wa­ter from a river to de­prive black farm­ers ac­cess to wa­ter on the down­stream.

Against this back­ground, e-WULAAS will go a long way give black farm­ers a gilt-edged op­por­tu­nity to flex their mus­cle in agri­cul­ture as it re­moves the ma­jor stum­bling block pros­per­ous en­trepreneur­ship.

The de­lay in the is­sue of li­cences stood in their way pros­per­ity.

The main pur­pose of the on­line sys­tem is to help ap­pli­cants (prospec­tive farm­ers) to achieve au­tho­ri­sa­tion in 300 days or less, while track­ing the process, record­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion and main­tain an ac­cu­rate doc­u­ment repos­i­tory through­out the au­tho­ri­sa­tion process.

The new mea­sure will re­duce the pe­riod it used to take to is­sue wa­ter use li­cences across the spec­trum.

The Na­tional Wa­ter Act fun­da­men­tally re­forms the law re­lat­ing to wa­ter re­sources, recog­nis­ing that wa­ter is a scarce and un­evenly dis­trib­uted na­tional as­set that be­longs to the peo­ple of South Africa and pro­vides the de­part­ment of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion with the man­date to pro­tect, use, de­velop, con­serve, man­age and con­trol the coun­try’s wa­ter re­sources in an in­te­grated man­ner.

The ob­jec­tive of e-WULAAS is two-fold; to pro­vide an on­line por­tal for ex­ist­ing and new wa­ter users to sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tions for wa­ter use au­tho­ri­sa­tion, and to pro­vide an in­ter­nal web-based in­ter­face for the au­tho­ri­sa­tion staff to man­age, co-or­di­nate and track the au­tho­ri­sa­tion pro­cesses of sub­mit­ted wa­ter use ap­pli­ca­tions.

The South African agri­cul­ture sec­tor is one of the main­stays of the coun­try’s econ­omy and of­fers sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties for large com­mer­cial and emerg­ing farm­ers in ar­eas, such as cap­i­tal in­vest­ment, train­ing, and sup­ply of equip­ment and ser­vices.

Farm­ing con­trib­utes greatly to the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic .

Through Afasa, emerg­ing farm­ers see their in­volve­ment in the sec­tor not only as an eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, but rather a way of life in the broader sense.

For many years the gov­ern­ment tried to change the face of farm­ing so as to ac­com­mo­date farm­ers from all walks of life and ul­ti­mately to try and get them to par­tic­i­pate in com­mer­cial farm­ing.

Yet, with­out wa­ter use li­cences, this is mis­sion im­pos­si­ble as ev­ery de­vel­op­ment hinges on the avail­abil­ity of wa­ter.

The South African pop­u­la­tion is ex­pected to reach 82 mil­lion by 2035. Food pro­duc­tion or im­ports must dou­ble to feed the ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tion, and pro­duc­tion needs to in­crease us­ing the same or fewer nat­u­ral re­sources.

Nat­u­rally, there is a huge de­mand for food crops from the con­sumer side.

Be­fore 1994, es­tab­lished com­mer­cial farm­ers had the ad­van­tage of be­ing favoured by the Land Act of 1913 and the Wa­ter Act of 1956, which de­prived black ac­cess to land and wa­ter.

As part of its trans­for­ma­tion pol­icy, the demo­cratic gov­ern­ment has re­versed most of the dra­co­nian laws, but most ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the pre­vi­ous regime are re­sist­ing and there­fore ben­e­fit­ing from the apartheid benev­o­lence.

The owner of the fast land, how­ever, has a com­mon law right to land formed by ac­cre­tion ad­ja­cent to the fast land and has the right of ac­cess to the nav­i­ga­ble part of the river in front of his fast land, with the right to make a land­ing, wharf or pier in front of his fast land, sub­ject, how­ever, to gen­eral rules and reg­u­la­tions im­posed by the pub­lic au­thor­i­ties nec­es­sary to pro­tect the rights of the pub­lic.

When the statu­tory law grants the right to a ri­par­ian owner to ex­tend his lot or to im­prove out to the lim­its pre­scribed by the pub­lic au­thor­i­ties, the ri­par­ian owner re­ceives a “fran­chise-a vested right, pe­cu­liar in its na­ture but a quasi prop­erty of which the lot owner can­not not be law­fully de­prived with­out his con­sent”.

When the owner makes im­prove­ments in front of his lot, com­plete ti­tle then vests in him in the im­prove­ments pro­vided it is in front of his lot and does not ap­pro­pri­ate the ri­par­ian rights of his neigh­bours.

It is pre­cisely this dis­crep­ancy that the Na­tional Wa­ter Act of 1998 is seek­ing to re­dress.

The im­bal­ances of the past con­tinue to con­front the pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged.

Be­cause of the ben­e­fits that the pre­vi­ous ben­e­fi­cia­ries en­joyed, e-WULAAS is most likely to have lit­tle im­pact on white farm­ers more than it will ben­e­fit their black coun­ter­parts.

It is there­fore in­cum­bent upon the emerg­ing farm­ers, who are al­most ex­clu­sively black, to take the op­por­tu­nity of util­is­ing the new on­line sys­tem to ap­ply and to ac­cel­er­ate the at­tain­ment of wa­ter use li­cences.

Khu­malo is a con­tent de­vel­oper in the de­part­ment of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion

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