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Hops production is threatened by climate change. Farmers must adapt to secure the benefits of their enterprise.



The hops growing industry around George (South Africa) creates significant local employment. However, crop irrigation requirements are high, and the crops need specific temperature ranges to thrive. There is evidence of changes in local average temperatures (which are increasing) and rainfall (which is decreasing) in the farming area. Projections for the future are not good, especially as competition for the limited water resources in the region is ever-increasing. Farmers have realised the need to adapt to climate change to secure not only their own livelihoods, but those of the many families that they support.

The Hops Farmers Association is engaging in climate adaptation and resilience building activities specifically focused on watershed services enhancement, use of technology and better operating systems to reduce water demand, crop research, and local programmes to create new skills and alternative income generation opportunities for local farm labour (and families).

The work is being conducted by the hops farmers with support from SAB (the beer company that buys the hops) and WWF (who helps by providing advice on watershed management and is helping to source funds for critical watershed management work).

Category of the action


What actions do you propose?

Watershed management activities include:

  • Alien invasive plant clearing in the mountain catchment areas and along rivers in the farmlands to increase river baseflows, and restore indigenous fynbos vegetation (national biodiversity hotspot).
  • Restoration of stream areas to indigenous vegetative cover to reduce sediment inflows, improve water regulation services and water quality in the rivers.
  • Dataloggers have been installed in some farmers boreholes to monitor changes to the aquifer over time.


Irrigation demand management activities include:

  • Assessment of irrigation systems to determine optimisation of water demand, and reduce electricity demand from pumping.
  • Implementation of more water efficient irrigation technologies where possible.
  • Testing of soil moisture probes as a decision support tool to optimise / minimise irrigation.


Upskilling and job / livelihood creation:

  • Teaching local farm labour and their families to grow plants for the stream restoration programme, and swopping the plants they produce for food / school fees / building materials etc.
  • Promoting the new plant growing skills to be used for producing plants for sale to other buyers, and growing vegetables and fruit for local food security.
  • Development of SMMEs to utilise the plant biomass from alien invasive plant clearing activities, and from hops operations, to generate compost and charcoal.


Strengthening institutional capacity:

A key component of the programme involves the strengthening and continued development of the Farmers' association to help ensure good governance capacity for water, climate and other risks. While there is an NGO involved in helping to facilitate this process (WWF), the Farmers are directing the form and process of institutional development. The intention is to establish a strong and well capacitated institutional structure that retains maximum participation by as many Farmers as possible. The process of institutional development is also building collaborative relationships between the Farmers Assocation and other stakeholders, including local government, national government and other farmer groups in the region.

Who will take these actions?

The Farmers Association is undertaking these activities with support and assistance from WWF and SAB.  The farmers provide the management oversight for the majority of the work, and where required, they contract in support. WWF has appointed a coordinator to assist the farmers to collaborate and to help lobby for funding for the programme. This coordinator is also working to help the farmers build capacity within the Farmers Association, and is supporting the farmers in deciding on how to evolve the institution as needed to address the increasing need for both collaborative action and regulation as risks and scarcities increase.

The Farmers Association, with support of the project coordinator is also building networks and relationships with key stakeholders in government, other farmers in the region / watershed, conservation authorities and other community organisations (including local conservancies).

Where will these actions be taken?

The Waboomskraal Watershed north of George and the Herold area northwest of George - both of which are the primary hops growing areas in South Africa and fall within the Gouritz Water Management Area.

What are other key benefits?

The work is being undertaken in the Gouritz Watershed - a key water stressed catchment in South Africa which is home to significant farming activities. Agri-Eden, a regional agricultural collaborative is excited by the project in that they would like to see it extend to broader catchment community (and other catchments) in the area - where similar climate adaptation and resilience building action is required. This project could therefore form a model for other similar activities.

The project will upskill and create livelihood opportunities for local people. This is a significant benefit as local farm labour have no other income generating opportunities other than working on the farms. Jobs are scarce and many labourers sit without any income for many months of the year (outside of the hops growing season). The project aims to create sustained income generation opportunities for the immediate beneficiaries of the project, and hopefully expand such benefits to a broader community group.

What are the proposal’s costs?

The alien invasive plant clearing requirements for the area have been estimated at tens of millions of Rands. This can only happen with the help of national government. WWF has managed to secure a grant for the project of R9 million (USD 900,000) to get this work started. SAB will also be making a financial contribution.

The farmers are picking up many of the costs themselves - of the labour to do the work, of adapting their irrigation systems, training labour and engaging in new enterprises in partnership with their farm workers (e.g. using the alien invasive plant biomass productively).

Funding support is still needed for the community upliftment and skills development components and to establish the SMME's for productive use of biomass. Estimated short term requirements in this regard are some R250,000 (USD 25,000).

Time line

The work has already started and will continue for the forseeable future. Key interventions need to happen within the next 2 years to secure the future of the hops farms.

Related proposals


Ms Christine Colvin, WWF,