South Africa has been an important exporter of agricultural and forestry products to Europe for years. Germany is one of the most important trading partners for so-called cash crops such as fruit and nuts, but also for cereals, meat and processed products such as wine, bioethanol and cellulose. About 10% of the country is currently used for agricultural production. However, the production conditions in South Africa are far from optimal, as 91% of the country's land area is classified as dry land. South Africa is a water-poor country that faces major challenges due to bio-physical and socio-economic issues such as poverty, lack of social cohesion and a growing population and the associated demand for land. The latest South African Environmental Report lists four key challenges: Water, climate change, human vulnerability and loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Climate fluctuations are particularly relevant, as around 30% of the population in South Africa have inadequate access to food.
Since the South African agricultural sector is not supported by state subsidies and is therefore heavily dependent on exports to the world market, there is a need to increase production and quality. These economic necessities also mean a proportional increase in water and energy consumption. While operating costs for irrigation increased by 60% between 2004 and 2013, a large share of operating overheads was due to an increase in energy costs. Since world market prices for agricultural products do not rise in the same proportion as energy costs in South Africa, farmers are under increased economic pressure. There is a need for measures to make the existing agricultural land more productive and sustainable, so that no further transformation of natural ecosystems is necessary to maintain agricultural production and food security. The rigorous implementation of water-efficient agriculture will be necessary to adapt to the predicted rainfall reductions of about 20%.
The Western Cape was selected as the target region for three reasons: (i) According to current climate scenarios, the region will be particularly affected by declining precipitation and increased droughts in the future. In addition, it has alarming soil erosion rates and is therefore a region of the highest priority for measures to adapt to climate change. (ii) The Western Cape is often referred to as "South Africa's breadbasket" because it is a centre for wheat cultivation in South Africa's winter rainy region and thus has a high national significance for food security in South Africa. (iii) The Western Cape is also an important producer of fruit and wine for the German export market. This gives rise to a certain responsibility for Germany to support the region in restructuring agriculture on a sustainable path. The results of a joint German-South African research project on sustainability is setting an example in this respect.