Better Barley, Better Beer: promoting sustainable agriculture in South Africa

03 Sep 14

Better barley better beerA joint initiative by WWF-SA and SAB is helping South African barley farmers to enhance the already substantial contribution they make to the country and its economy.

SAB helped to establish South Africa’s barley growing sector back in the 1970s, as a strategic initiative to become self-sufficient in this key brewing ingredient.  Since that time, the industry has expanded significantly, with around 160, 000 tons currently grown in the Southern Cape and a further 64, 000t (set to expand to 106, 000t in 2014) produced in the irrigation areas of the Northern Cape.

Advantages of local production

Having a fully-fledged barley sector on its doorstep means SAB can now rely on contracts with local producers for some 93% of its brewing requirements, enabling it to hedge against volatile global commodity markets and, just as importantly, to keep tighter control of quality.

Recognising the vital role domestic barley farmers now play in its business success, in 2011/2012 SAB joined forces with WWF South Africa (WWF-SA) to develop an initiative known as Better Barley, Better Beer.  This aims to empower the South African barley farmer to make the right decisions now so as to ensure the sustainable production of local barley into the future.

In simple terms, Better Barley, Better Beer – or BBBB – provides farmers with a set of criteria, indicators and verifiers to help them measure how sustainably they are farming.

These were developed by SAB agriculturalists working with a group of farmers selected from the wider supply chain; their aim is not to tell the farmer what he or she should do, but rather to provide an opportunity to self-assess current performance against a set of objective indicators.  Completing the check-list enables a farmer to highlight his/her strengths and weaknesses and to develop a plan of action to correct any obvious deficiencies.

To take this work forward, in 2014 SAB and WWF-SA are continuing their partnership with a project to pilot BBBB guidelines among selected barley growers, while also working together to support sustainable barley production in both the rain-fed Western Cape and the irrigated the Northern Cape regions.

Farmers participating in the initiative have been surveyed and their response is encouraging, showing excitement for the future and an understanding of the necessity for action.  The survey also unearthed several interesting best practice examples from the farms it covered.

Two year trial period

The BBBB guidelines will be trialled for two years and should help the famers to optimise production and water usage, as well as to more effectively manage and conserve natural resources.  Results across several key metrics will be tracked, with a view to demonstrating the impact and value of changing practices at farm level and elsewhere in the agricultural chain.

A tailor-made set of guidelines is also being rolled out to small scale and emerging farmers in the Taung area of the North West Province.

Do you think this is a good idea? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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