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Our joint initiative with WWF is helping South Africa’s barley farmers enhance the already substantial contribution they make to the country and its economy

Our business in South Africa, The South African Breweries (SAB), helped to establish the country’s barley growing sector back in the 1970s, as a strategy to become self-sufficient in this key brewing ingredient. Since that time, the industry has expanded significantly, with around 180,000 tonnes currently grown in the Western Cape and a further 64,000 tonnes (set to expand to 106,000 tonnes in 2014) produced under irrigation in the Northern Cape.  

Having a fully-fledged barley sector on its doorstep means SAB can rely on contracts with local producers for around 93% of its brewing requirements, enabling it to hedge against volatile global commodity markets and, just as importantly, keep tighter control of quality.

Recognising the vital role domestic barley farmers now play in its business success, in 2011 SAB joined forces with WWF South Africa (WWF-SA) to develop an initiative known as Better Barley, Better Beer. This aims to help the South African barley farmer make the right decisions now to ensure the sustainable local production of barley into the future.

In simple terms, Better Barley, Better Beer – or BBBB – provides farmers with a checklist to help them measure how sustainably they are farming. This was developed by SAB agriculturalists working with a group of farmers selected from the wider supply chain. Their aim is not to tell each barley farmer what he or she should do, but rather enable them to assess their current performance. Completing the checklist allows farmers to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of their barley operation, and to develop a plan of action to correct any obvious deficiencies.

SAB and WWF-SA are also piloting BBBB guidelines among selected barley growers in 2014, and working together to support sustainable barley production in both the rain-fed Western Cape and the irrigated Northern Cape regions.

Farmers participating in the BBBB initiative have been surveyed and their response is encouraging, showing excitement for the future and an understanding of the need for action.

The checklist is really making a difference in the attitude of the producers, making it a positive and learning experience for both parties.
Jan Coetzee | Project Manager, BBBB initiative

The checklist has also unearthed several valuable best practice examples from the farms it has covered. One of the participating farmers said "Just going through the checklist I have already identified areas where I can better my practices. You think you do everything 100% until you actually sit down and start answering detailed questions." 

I’m looking forward to the next phase and am interested to see how SAB will take this forward and what it will mean for producers, but I will start immediately to implement some of the best practices identified.
Participating farmer
The BBBB guidelines will be trialled for two years and should help the farmers to optimise production and water usage, as well as managing and conserving natural resources more effectively. Results will be tracked, with a view to demonstrating the impact and value of changing practices at farm level and elsewhere in the agricultural chain.

A tailor-made set of guidelines is also being rolled out to small-scale farmers in the Taung area of the North West.