Centre for Water Resources Research

Current Projects

Funders:                  Water Research Commission

Time frame:           1 April 2023 – 31 March 2027

Project Team:        Mr Richard Kunz (Project Leader), Prof. Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, Dr Shaeden Gokool.

Collaborators:        Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development (DALRRD)

Context: According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, three staples (rice, maize and wheat) provide more than half of the world’s food. Only 12 plants and 5 animal species provide 75% of the world’s food, which has resulted in homogeneous farming landscapes and diets across the globe. This situation needs to change by increasing crop diversification, which is a key agronomic strategy to help reduce the negative impacts of intensive monocrop agricultural systems. Improving agro-biodiversity can be achieved by expanding the production of underutilised indigenous crops.

Underutilised indigenous crops thrive under low-input and stressed (water and heat) growing conditions that typically limit agricultural productivity and thus, are well adapted to marginal environments. They have potential for cultivation during drought conditions and are considered more water use efficient than other conventional crops. Many underutilised crops are highly nutritious and thus, can contribute to healthier diets, particularly among the rural poor. Despite these advantages, underutilised indigenous crops continue to occupy the peripheries of mainstream agriculture.

Historically, the uptake of underutilised crops for inclusion into existing farming systems has been limited by a lack of information on, inter alia, their yield potential, water use characteristics and agronomic requirements. This was exacerbated by the low level of research funding afforded to underutilised crops in the past. However, the situation has changed considering the Water Research Commission has funded almost three decades of research related to underutilised crops. This investment has resulted in, inter alia, the: (i) identification of prioritised crops that exhibit the most potential; (ii) establishment of field experiments that measured crop yield and water use; and (iii) successful calibration of FAO’s AquaCrop simulation model for numerous underutilised crops. Therefore, the main aim of this project is to leverage off previous WRC-funded research in order to develop an extensive database related to underutilised crops currently grown in South Africa. The crop database will be developed using output simulated by the AquaCrop model.

Objectives:  The main objectives of this research project include the following:

  • Consolidate locally calibrated crop parameters for numerous underutilised indigenous crops.
  • Develop and implement a fast and efficient method to run AquaCrop at a national scale.
  • For each crop, perform model runs to derive seasonal crop yield and water use for different planting dates and plant densities and for both water- and non-stressed growing conditions.
  • Develop an extensive database of statistics generated from modelled output, together with other useful metrics (e.g. crop and nutritional water productivity).
  • Develop a web-based utility to disseminate the information stored in the online crop database.
  • Demonstrate how the database can be used to promote the cultivation of underutilised indigenous crops in South Africa.

Expected Outcomes:

An analysis of stored yield and water productivity data will be used to generate land suitability maps and production guidelines for selected crops. Hence, the main intention of this crop database is to provide farmers with the necessary information to make informed decisions regarding crop choices. The easily accessible crop database will address (i.e. remove) the lack of access to production information about unexploited crops, thus making their uptake and adoption far less risky for farmers. This will hopefully promote the cultivation of underutilised crops, which is the catalyst needed to transform current agricultural landscapes in South Africa. Expanding the cultivation of nutrient-dense, drought and heat tolerant crops that are currently underutilised will help to strengthen food and nutrition security, improve dietary diversity, alleviate rural poverty and overall, increase the resilience and sustainability of current farming systems.

Funders:                  Water Research Commission and University of KwaZulu-Natal

Time frame:           1 April 2023 – 31 March 2025

Project Team:        Mr Simphiwe Ngcobo (Project Leader), Professor Jeff Smithers, Ms K Chetty, Ms Faye Brownell, Dr Jim Taylor, Dr Mark Graham, Mr Ayanda Lepheana, Ms Sim’lindile Mahlaba, Mr Stuart Warner, Ms Ntombifuthi Vilakazi, Mr Duncan Hay, Ms Tanisha Curtis.

Collaborators:        GroundTruth and UMngeni Water

Context:                  The water resources in South Africa are increasingly under pressure and are showing a downward trajectory in terms of their current condition and state (as evidenced by the most recent State of Environment reports and various press articles). The ability to measure the condition of these critical freshwater resources has also to be contextualized against a deteriorating central and provincial governments’ ability and capacity to monitor and report on these resources. This is against a backdrop of increased pressure on these resources from an increasing population, developments and reduced capacity to regulate these impacts from within relevant government institutions. Recent and historical Green Drop Reports and papers highlight this trend, and particularly the extent to which WWTW in SA are dysfunctional and have significant impacts on the quality of surface water in the country (more than half are failing!). This is not isolated and likely to be a broader phenomenon extending beyond SA into at least the SADC region if not larger geographical areas. It is against this backdrop that this project aims to improve the potential for better water resource management in SA through the consolidation of Citizen Science (CS) generated data, tools and information to engage with all sectors in society and to positively influence the policy and appreciation of water resources across all levels of society and governance of these critical resources. Through situated and engaged research processes this project is designed to support, research and better understand public mobilisation through citizen science processes. Such research processes are designed to support and strengthen the role of State, Provincial and Local Municipality structures as these relate to water management.


Objectives:  The objectives of this project include the following:

  • To conduct a situation analysis on the use of CS in SA, including where and how CS is currently being used in SA, its credibility as a water quality monitoring method, as well as a cost efficacy review of CS.
  • To determine what crucial CS data is required to ensure credible and scientific water resource quality to support SDG6 reporting.
  • To determine the barriers to applicability of CS at a national level and for SDG6 monitoring.
  • To determine how youth monitors can contribute to the ‘learning to earning’ pathway for young people, including incentivisation of CS more broadly.
  • To advise on the adequacy and gaps of CS monitoring tools.
  • To produce a preliminary State of Water Resources from a CS perspective within the current State of Rivers report landscape.
  • To make recommendations on how to strengthen CS in water quality monitoring and to explore the opportunities for scaling CS.

Funders:                  Water Research Commission (WRC)

Time frame:           01 April 2023 – 31 March 2026

Project Team:        Dr Maqsooda Mahomed (Project Leader), Dr Shaeden Gokool, Mr Richard Kunz, Mr Kyle Reddy, Prof Alistair Clulow, Prof Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi,                                   Mr Vivek Naiken, Mrs Kalastrie Chetty, Dr Mbulisi Sibanda

Collaborators:       University of Western Cape

Context: Globally, agricultural food production systems are unable to keep pace with existing food demands. The diversification of the agricultural food production system through the mainstreaming of neglected and underutilised crops (NUCs) has been widely recognized as a pragmatic and promising approach to address this situation. Although the increased production of NUCs can play a major role in improving food and nutrition security as well as stimulating socio-economic growth, this potential can only be fulfilled if high quality production levels of these crops can be achieved. While there are several factors that may contribute to low yields and inferior product quality in many farmer’s fields, poor weed management is often the primary contributing factor. In recent times integrated weed management (IWM) has become the preferred method of controlling or managing weeds, with the use of UAVs featuring quite prominently for this purpose. IWM has been advocated as an alternate approach to mitigate the harmful impacts of conventional methods by adopting a more efficient and sustainable approach which is centred on improving the understanding and quantifying crop-weed competition dynamics to develop customised weed management strategies. Considering the versatility and potential of UAV technologies for IWM in concert with recent advancements in machine learning and big data geospatial processing platforms, in this study we aim to accurately identify and map the spatial distribution of weeds as well as understand and quantify the impacts of weed water use on crop health, quality, yield and available water resources. It is envisaged that this information will then serve to guide more effective weed management in the future.

Objectives:  The objectives of this project include the following:

  • To provide a literature review on the impacts of crop-weed competition on crop yields and quality, as well as the potential of IWM to mitigate these impacts.
  • To develop and setup a trial that will enable the impacts of crop-weed interactions to be quantified through traditional and UAV-based approaches.
  • To map and identify the spatial distribution of weeds during the various NUC growth stages.
  • To quantify the water use of NUCs and weeds using UAV imagery.

Funders:                  Water Research Commission

Time frame:           1 April 2023 – 31 March 2026

Project Team:        Dr Daniel Kibirige (Project Leader), Dr Shaeden Gokool, Richard Kunz, Dr Maqsooda Mahomed, Prof Jeff Smithers, Prof Tafadzwanashe                                               Mabhaudhi, Sipho Magagula, Dr Stefanie Schütte, Kershani Chetty, Nicholas Byaruhanga and Glen Mkhonta

Context: In South Africa, Flood Early Warning Systems (FEWS) are of paramount importance due to the nation’s vulnerability to periodic, devastating floods. These events are exacerbated by a combination of factors, including erratic rainfall patterns, rapid urbanization, and the legacy of inadequate infrastructure in many areas. The consequences of flooding are severe, with loss of life, property damage, and disruption of critical services. As such, FEWS play a crucial role in mitigating these risks by providing advance notice to residents, authorities, and relief agencies. Therefore, this project aims to fill the gap in KZN by developing an operational FEWS, which will serve as a model for integrating technology with local expertise, which is particularly tailored to the country’s diverse and dynamic flood risk landscape.

Objectives:  The objectives of this project include the following:

  • To undertake a systematic literature review on existing global FEWS and the input data/models required for FEWS.
  • To develop a FEWS through enhanced hydrological and hydraulic modelling in KwaZulu Natal in pre-determined flood-prone regions with the potential to upscale to the national scale.
  • To review, test and calibrate the FEWS and apply the newly developed methodology to additional WMAs or District municipalities.
  • To develop user/training manuals of the FEWS and train users of WMAs or DMs to use the FEWS tool.