Towards the achievement of environmental standards in the South African sugar industry : the role of GIS.
Wallace, Michael Grant.
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The South African Sugar Industry is a major land user in the South African provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Although offering substantial economic benefits in these regions, monocultural sugarcane production has had a fundamental impact on the natural environment in which sugarcane is produced. Attention was focused on the growing sector of the industry after flood events during the previous decade resulted in major soil erosion of sugarcane land. Widespread intentional cane burning is attracting increasing societal and regulatory pressure. New national environmental legislation in the spirit of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Agenda 21 and various other international agreements, demand that industries - including agriculture - demonstrate sustainability in their use of environmental resources. National law now more rigorously addresses biodiversity and wetland environmental issues. New water laws will fundamentally alter the existing water-use paradigm in sugarcane production. These issues are not unique to South Africa, having much in common with those faced by other major sugar producing countries. In order to effectively manage the impacts of production processes on the environment, organisations are turning to internationally accepted environmental management standards, such as the ISO 14000 series, in order to demonstrate their environmental responsibility to government and society, whilst promoting their acceptability to consumers. The SA Sugar Industry is in the early stages of investigating appropriate environmental management systems. The natural resources required for - and impacted upon - by sugarcane production are variable in space and over time. Effective and responsible environmental management must make optimum use of appropriate technology to effectively utilise the large volumes of often complex data pertaining to these resources and associated environmental processes. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are computer systems designed for the capture, analysis, storage and display of spatial data and attribute data related to location. Whilst not a new development, recent advances indicate that GIS has substantially matured as a decision support technology and as such is being used successfully by many organisations involved in environmental management, where its use offers unique benefits at a variety of decision levels and spatial scales. GIS is applied at many complexity levels, from simple thematic map production to complex spatial analysis. The major advantage of GIS is considered by some to be its ability to spatially model environmental scenarios, producing graphic results (usually maps). As such, GIS has considerable value in formal Decision Support Systems. The major environmental issues facing South African sugarcane producers are fundamentally spatial in nature. The development and incorporation of environmental GIS capacity into their proposed environmental management system is indispensable in addressing these issues and moving towards achieving and maintaining acceptable environmental standards in the SA sugar growing sector.
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