If South Africa's water resources are poorly managed, it will not only be commercial farmers who will suffer.
New farmers will then end up suffering the most, in the view of professor Andries Jordaan, a research fellow at the University of the Free State.
"If new farmers suffer due to badly managed water resources, then land reform will fail. We cannot allow that to happen," Jordaan said at the Agri SA Water Symposium in Somerset West on Monday.
He is part of a research project looking at potential scenarios for agriculture in SA. Data gathered so far indicates four potential scenarios, depending on the way water is managed in the country.
Among the economic factors that will play a role in determining which scenario ultimately develops, are capital availability; the shift (or lack thereof) in production systems; corruption; the price of energy; incentives or disincentives; water infrastructure investments; and the foreign exchange rate.
The extent to which innovative thinking takes place will also play a role.
Among the political factors identified from the data there are the land reform policy; racial disparity; internal political conflict; the level of conflict in society; and the extent of the political understanding of water challenges.
The first possible scenario is if the traditional approach to water management continues. According to Jordaan, this scenario would ultimately lead to SA becoming a welfare state.
"This will lead to more land degradation and high levels of water pollution," said Jordaan.
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The second possible scenario is termed the frustration scenario. In this scenario there are low levels of governance and governance capacity; poor enforcement of water management policies; conflicts of water use; an increase demand for water; and high water tariffs.
"Water users will ignore water management regulations and exploit water resources," said Jordaan.
This scenario would also lead to Day Zero threats for urban areas during dry periods, especially in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Gauteng.
The so-called Z-scenario the Z refers to a scenario similar to Zimbabwe's circumstances. It would involve a recession developing; illegal land invasions; disinvestment in agriculture; food insecurity; increased violent conflict; farmers relocating to other countries; Day Zeros and other problems.
"Experts say this scenario will involve general water shortages, no safety and security in rural areas, deforestation, illegal mining and land grabs," said Jordaan.
Last but not least, the best-case scenario would involve good governance; strong leadership as well as private sector involvement; equal access to water; regional collaboration; efficient water management authorities and the enforcement of water guidelines and regulations.
Such a scenario would involve economic growth; innovative water infrastructure management; and applying climate smart technology in agriculture.