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Scene on the Lower Berg River
Complex relationships between biodiversity and economic sectors such as fishing
Wine farm near Paarl
Irrigation water for wine production comes from farm dams, tributaries and large schemes
Rock pool in the upper catchment
Protection of headwaters is important for the health of the river downstream
Saldanha Bay
An aerial view of Saldanha Bay showing the harbour and Langebaan Lagoon


The Food, Energy, Water, Land and Biodiversity (FEWLB) Nexus project looks to inform decision making and project development to foster sustainable resource use and development within the Berg River catchment area. The project started in October 2013 and is funded by the British High Commission and the Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC). ACDI is implementing this project in collaboration with the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

Nexus thinking is developing internationally in an attempt to understand and deal with the interdependencies which exist within complex natural and human systems. This is becoming increasingly important as we begin to push against the planetary boundaries of resource use, and emerging resource constraints become a limitation to economic development. Thus, an integrated consideration of food, water, energy, land and biodiversity is essential in local economic development planning. Decisions which benefit some components of the nexus can have negative impacts on other components. When these trade-offs are identified and quantified, decisions can be adapted or mitigation measures put in place to optimize overall benefits. Future pressures, such as climate change, also need to be considered.

The Berg River catchment represents an excellent example of an economically important regional system under high resource extractive pressure at the nexus of water quantity and quality, food production and energy supply, within the wider context of a rich biodiversity and intensive land use. Pollution in the Berg River catchment is a cause of great concern especially to communities, farmers and industries in the various municipalities of the West Coast and Cape Winelands regions. In addition, there is increasing concern that the water will not be adequate in future to service the entire region – in particular, that the planned industrial development at Saldanha Bay will be constrained by the predicted future resource unless the management of the resource is changed significantly. This is complicated by the high demand on Berg River water resources by the City of Cape Town. Water must also be allocated to the ‘ecological reserve’*  which provides critically important environmental and social services.

In relation to government powers and functions, management of the Berg River system straddles all three spheres of government, involving local, provincial and national government responsibilities. Given the fact that the FEWLB nexus represents a complex system, cooperation between National Government, the Western Cape Provincial Government, District and Local Municipalities, other Berg River stakeholders and the academic institutions in the province becomes increasingly important. A number of studies are already focused on the Berg River/Saldanha Bay area. The work undertaken in this research project does not duplicate what is already underway, but adds to and complements current research work, and shows the way for future more in-depth research.


The National Water Act (1998) states that: “The ecological reserve relates to the water required to protect the aquatic ecosystems of the water resource. The Reserve refers to both the quantity and quality of the water in the resource, and will vary depending on the class of the resource.”