Working with South African dairy farmers to improve water stewardship and implement sustainable agriculture practices

Trace & Save uses direct measures of agricultural sustainability to inform the implementation of sustainable management practices on farms.

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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Trace & Save (T&S)

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $250k - $500k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 50 - 100

Organization type

  • For-profit

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • South Africa

Headquarters location: City

Jeffrey's Bay

Location(s) of impact

South Africa: Jeffrey’s Bay, Port Elizabeth, Humansdorp, Oyster Bay, Tsitsikamma, Cradock, Cookhouse, Alexandria


Facebook URL

Twitter URL

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

South Africa is emerging from a devastating drought. Agriculture & rural livelihoods are hard hit. Dairy is water dependent; therefore there is pressure to reduce its water footprint ensuring sufficient water for people, nature & economic production. There is no environmental sustainability standard that SA dairy industry subscribes to. Dairy companies have made commitments to responsible production; however, there is little focus at farm level & token traceable information that can satisfy any concerns with integrity.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

In the absence of government support the private sector has provided consulting services for farmers. In SA, only T&S works with farmers to provide sustainability services with academic defensibility, integrity and traceability. Farmers are provided measures of sustainability, developed by T&S, which helps them track their improvement, relative to baseline values, via an online platform. These measures include soil health, water management & nutrient management aspects. By continually improving soil health, farmers can use less water while maintaining production. Further, measures of efficiency (e.g. litres water/litre milk) show farmers how effectively water is used. Through a dedicated extension service & regular interactions, farmers are supported to develop their own strategies to use natural resources more efficiently. Consumers can participate by using the T&S platform to trace what farmers are doing, thereby keeping farmers accountable to sustainable practices.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

The system developed by T&S has been used to increase productivity & reduce environmental impact. On farms where soil health has improved, especially through increased soil carbon, the water holding capacity has improved (n=605;Pearson R=0.21[C & WHC correlation];p<0.01), allowing farmers to store larger amounts of water in the soil. By increasing nutrient use efficiencies, farmers have reduced the amount of fertiliser used. Better irrigation & water use practices have been implemented to reduce the water used to produce a litre of milk. Further quantitative evidence is provided in an attachment. Such improvements achieve greater economic value for each business but simultaneously create greater social-ecological value in the surrounding catchment & for communities that depend on water resources, i.e. a ripple effect of positive impacts. By improving ecosystem services, such as improved freshwater provision & reduced nutrient runoff, human well-being and livelihoods are supported.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

T&S is a for-profit company, which has relied 100% on earned income by delivering services to suppliers of a large dairy in the Eastern Cape. The financial sustainability of T&S is grounded in the value farmers & dairy companies receive from using the service; therefore income is generated as the company grows. The opportunity exists though for the system to be expanded throughout SA and even abroad, aiming at creating shared value for the dairy industry. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in SA, recognising the value of T&S, hosted a meeting in October 2017 to share the model with other dairy companies. There is also scope to extend the service to emerging farmers who cannot afford the service, but would greatly benefit if it was made available at a subsidised cost.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

The T&S system addresses whole-farm sustainability, measuring specific integrated indicators directly informing management. Other initiatives use non-integrated indicators, only providing broad insights, or, used for auditing. A central database is used to generate feedback reports & maps for farmers, creating a unique online research platform. Other initiatives only provide reports, whereas T&S facilitates learning. Independent sustainability assessment, with measured progress, shows integrity.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

The initiative was born out of a frustration for how loose the term sustainability had become. There are many initiatives which attempt to address sustainability, but very few which bring all the aspects together in a manner which is meaningful to farmers and makes business sense, as opposed to legislative restrictions and extractive audits. After having completing a Master’s Degree in sustainable agriculture, the founder had a burning desire to create something that would address the challenge of evaluating sustainability with integrity, while providing the technical information and extension support farmers need. Many hours were spent trying to figure out how all of the dimensions relating to sustainability on farms could be measured, & integrated in a coherent manner. The “Aha!” moment culminated in the creation of the SWAN system & the accompanying interactive framework.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Upon recommendation from others

Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

The attached yearly process diagram provides a full overview of the activities we engage in with each farm. A basic overview of the process is that on a yearly basis a T&S researcher requests farm production data from each farmer, supporting them in any queries they have. The T&S researcher uses this data to carry out the water & nutrient use efficiency assessments, among other assessments. Once a year, soil samples are taken by T&S field assistants – this usually takes 2 to 3 days per farm - where carbon and water holding capacity and other soil parameters are measured at independent labs. Irrigation and effluent water samples are also taken twice a year, which are assessed for water quality. All of this data collected for each farm is uploaded to a central database by the T&S researcher, which allows each farmer to access their results on their online research platform. The T&S researcher then visits the farmer on their farm to provide feedback from these assessments & soil results, working with the farmer to identify opportunities to improve management, & establishing a strategy for more sustainable farming. This means there are two farm visits every year by the T&S researcher, each visit is usually about 2 hours. In addition to this, each year we organise a meeting for all farmers participating in the project to get together where we share research we have done on their farms, creating a shared learning environment.

Focus area

  • Water

We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.

The main goal of T&S is to see farmers utilise natural resources in a more responsible manner, ensuring the long-term sustainability of agricultural production. Central to this is the efficient use of water for food production and limiting the environmental degradation of freshwater sources. Sustainability is not a short-term goal. The reason T&S was designed as a measured sustainable agriculture system is so that the long-term impact of farm management practices can be monitored and responded to. T&S addresses improved irrigation management by assessing farmers’ water use efficiency each year, assisting farmers to implement strategies – the most prominent of which is irrigation scheduling –to continuously improve the efficiency of water utilisation. A nutrient budget is assessed each year, examining the efficiency with which nutrients are utilised on farms. The goal is to limit the amount of excess or unutilised nutrients applied to fields entering water resources. These excess nutrients are a major cause of surface- and ground-water degradation. Reducing fertiliser use (without compromising yield) is a key strategy for improving nutrient use efficiency, only possible through improving soil health. T&S partners with prominent universities and academics in researching these issues, to identify opportunities to improve water and fertiliser management. Further evidence is provided in an attachment entitled “Benefits of implementing the T&S system”.

Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

There are three groups of stakeholders for whom shared value is created by T&S. The 1st & most prominent, are the farmers who participate in the T&S system. The sustainability of their farming operation is improved, ensuring long-term economic success, limited environmental impact & social responsibility of their farms. Extension support for farmers in RSA is very limited, & therefore T&S greatly contributes in this regard. The 2nd is any secondary manufacturer or processor in the agricultural industry. They can make use of T&S services to ensure the sustainability of the agricultural produce they source. The 3rd are consumers, who can trace whether the food they consume has been produced in a sustainable & responsible manner. These 3 stakeholder groups are encouraged to interact, to challenge and improve sustainability reporting integrity & traceability. There is also the ripple effect of indirect positive environmental impacts, thereby creating value for countless other stakeholders.

How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?

T&S is a for profit business. The initiative is currently fully funded by income from the work it carries out. There is no intention to adapt this core business model, therefore there is no reliance on grants for the business to continue operations. Due to the quality of the service provided, and the demand we have realised there is for the service, the potential for growth is great. In order to make use of this opportunity, further funding, in the form of a grant, could be well utilised to support farmers who cannot afford the T&S services , such as emerging farmers.

How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?

There are 2 main areas we intend to influence. The first is by broadening the reach of our initiative, to include other soil based farming systems, beyond the dairy industry only. We believe in the value T&S provides, both to improving individual farms, but also to improving the sustainability of agriculture in RSA. The 2nd area is through research. The demand for applied research, which is conducted within the industry it aims to influence, is growing, especially in agriculture. T&S researchers are already partnering with universities & academics to carry out progressive research in our field, but the platform & funding gained from winning the CSV prize will create the opportunity for this to be done in an expanded capacity.

How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?

1) By providing the services T&S offers to emerging farmers free of charge, who are not likely to be able to afford paying for these services, thereby supporting them to use water responsibly & farm in a sustainable manner from the initial stages of developing their farms. This has the potential for major positive social and economic impact in RSA, as emerging farmers are often not provided with adequate extension services. This often then results in these farms failing, instead of supporting rural communities to alleviate poverty. 2) For marketing. A strength of T&S relies on consumers being aware of the work, therefore various marketing initiatives can support this. Marketing will also spread the word among farmers. 3) Further research.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?

The main strategy is to initially offer the services provided by T&S into broader geographic areas in RSA, and into other soil-based agriculture. T&S is well established & positioned to increase our impact. Conversations have already been initiated with interested stakeholders, with the intention of implementing the T&S system on dairy farms throughout RSA. This growth includes growing the T&S team, as well as equipping other independent consultants through training, & provision of services that allow them to make use of the T&S system. Environmental consultants have already expressed interest in the opportunity to use the service in this manner. The T&S system for sustainable agriculture was designed to be applicable on all soil-based agriculture, & therefore has unlimited expansion potential. Continued & expanded research is also aimed to increase the scale of our impact. Continuing to work with recognised & respected universities & NGOs will further allow for growth & accreditation.

Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?

The core T&S team consists of the owner & manager (Masters in sustainable agriculture), the financial manager, & four full-time researchers. 1 of these researchers has a PhD degree, 2 have Masters’ degrees (both enrolled in PhD) & 1 an honours degree. T&S works closely with a computer programmer who runs the database & website. The current project also employs 7 technicians who collect & analyse soil & water samples. As the initiative scales the number of researchers needs to grow through adding full-time team members & external consultants that can be trained & equipped to use the T&S system.

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

None to date. T&S has been recognised by the World Wide Fund for Nature-SA as an impressive & progressive system to facilitate sustainable agriculture on dairy farms.

Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?

We have had many opportunities to share our work with people in our field, showing our unique approach to sustainable agriculture. We have found that other dairy consulting companies focus on technical production insight which seldom includes environmental aspects & environmental auditing companies focus on regulation compliance & not extension support. We have published 6 articles in a popular farmer magazine, 2 semi-scientific articles in an agronomy magazine, & have a peer-reviewed article in press at the Journal of Cleaner Production. Evidence in the attachments & these publications show our influence with regards to inspiring others to innovate & adopt sustainable practices on various levels, from farm management to academic research.

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018

  • Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018
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Attachments (4)

A brief overview of the Trace & Save system.pdf

A document providing a brief introduction to Trace & Save, and diagrams providing a brief overview of the Trace & Save system.

Trace & Save yearly process.pdf

A document showing the yearly process of how Trace & Save interacts with the farmers working with us. This document is supplementary to the answer to the question about "Program Design Clarity" below.

The benefit of implementing the Trace & Save system.pdf

A document showing quantitative evidence of the benefit that farmers have received from working with Trace & Save on their farms.

Week-to-week SWAN scores.pdf

A graph, which is located at, displaying week-to-week sustainability scores for the farms participating with Trace & Save. The graphs allow consumers, and other interested stakeholders, to trace whether farms are showing progress with regards to measurable aspects of sustainability. This allows and encourages consumers to participate in how their food is produced, tracking whether it is sustainable. It also provides the integrity which Trace & Save values.


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Photo of Susan Viljoen

This model has great potential to make an incredible difference to the south african dairy industry, in terms of improving the stewardship of water resources in our water-scarce country, and improving sustainability monitoring and extension services to farmers - both commercial and emerging farmers. (World Wide Fund for Nature/WWF, South Africa - Freshwater Programme)

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