Curating content and dead-ends

These past few weeks have been challenging on many levels. The ongoing protests on campus have disrupted the careful schedule Claudia and I planned to meet up and work, and has barred access to the awesome Mendi computer lab with cool technology and programs.

It has also been D-Day for me (Soninke) with regards to content. All the research I had been doing now had to be moulded into carefully categorised stories, enriched with media such as stop-motion videos and audio tracks.

It was not that easy.

Claudia and I had worked hard on the rich media. It had distracted from the story writing. When I did turn back to it I struggled to generate content, which was strange for me as I loved writing. I kept turning back and rethinking “What am I trying to convey with this chapter?” The content production for the six existing chapters had been painstaking and slow, but I could not work out why.

Then I realised it: we are trying to do too much with the site with little clarity of what to focus on. The six areas we agreed on was the following:

  1. ‘The weather in South Africa: The Basic’. This piece will introduce the viewer to the the mechanism behind South Africa’s climate through a short stop-motion video, explaining our country’s context within the global scale, and ultimately lay the foundation for the rest of the article. It would also explain the different climate zones in South Africa which is important with regards to agriculture as it determines where what crops/livestock is produced.
  2. ‘El Nino Explained’. This section was to communicate the forcing behind the El Nino, how it works, and how it affects South Africa in particular. Diagrams have been employed to help simplify the content and communicate the complicated concept of the global phenomenon.
  3. ‘The Drought in South Africa’. I feel that this story is trying to do too much. Somehow, it had to talk about 2015 being the hottest year, the increasing dry conditions in South Africa, why last year was hot, why this El Nino was worse, how it all affects farmers and link to agriculture. Phew. See?
  4. ‘Conversation with a commercial farmer’. Here we spoke to Andy Schulenburg, a farmer in the North West who has suffered with the latest drought. He talks us through the consequences of the drought, such as loss of livestock, revenue and job losses for farmers and farmworkers. It tells a very human story. Yet, the economy is an important factor to include as agriculture does contribute to a large extent of the GDP.
  5. ‘Stories of Subsistence Farmers’. Here we used Claudia’s video and a case study of subsistence farmers in Muden. These farmers have been hit by the drought as they have lack of assets and live in climate vulnerable areas. Kwazulu-Natal was one of the hardest hit, and just las year +- 40 000 cattle were lost in this province alone due to lack of food and water.
  6. ‘Climate Change Adaptation’. Here we venture into farming prospects for the future, given climate change and increasing dry conditions across the country. We investigate conservation farming and other methods available to help farmers adapt to the future.

The last three sections seem to be fine. There is enough information for them to stand alone as chapters. However, the first three try and do too much and too little at the same time. Perhaps it’s time to review the chapters and see what we really need.

I propose the following:

  1. ‘South African Weather and the El Nino’. Herein would be the introduction to South African climate with a lead in to El Nino. If it is all in one chapter it will be easier for viewers to understand. It will also be a nice rich chapter, with the stop-motion video and the graphics illustrating the El Nino.
  2. ‘The Drought in South Africa’. This portion can now play its part and link the drought to the agricultural industry without being forced. It can talk about why this drought was so bad (El Nino plus other natural variability) and we can still use Peter Johnston’s audio.
  3. ‘Financial implications of the drought’. This is an important section. Agriculture altogether contributes 14% to our GDP, so the financial implications of the drought must be discussed. I propose a section on how it affects the South African economy (e.g. increased imports, decrease exports, drop in fruit quality), a section on how it affects farmers (increased debt, sell livestock, less seed) and on how it affects consumers through increased food prices.

This financial bit seems crucial as it will provide sufficient content on the site to cater for a variety of audiences as it balances between the environment/climate, the costs of the drought, and the social factor. It even touches on conservation farming for the future.

Time to Back Up!

So we had a bit of scare yesterday… Soninke called me (Claudia) in a relatively calm manner, “Claudia, where’s our website? I am typing in the URL but nothing is coming up and my internet is working fine.”

I was still in bed when I received this call, and jumped up and got dressed in about 5 minutes flat. I tried to reassure Soninke that everything was fine and immediately got on the phone with our hosting company (Afrihost).

As I was going through this whole process, I kept thinking of how happy Soninke and myself were just two days before – we took this photograph and posted it on Instagram with the caption “It has been one hell of a ride, but @soninkec and myself are nearly at the end of the road of our senior research project! Nearly time to celebrate!” And now, I was worried our whole website had been lost!


My worries were not put at ease after I got off the phone with the helpful support person from Afrihost who said that this was not a normal occurrence and that he had to talk to his supervisor.

About 30min-45min later, I decided to give the call center another call. This time I spoke to another support person, I was trying to explain the whole situation to him and as I checked the website again, it was live! With everything intact! I told the support person that everything was now fine, and thanked him for the moral support.

About 15min later, the first support person (who fixed the problem) gave me a call to explain. Apparently there was something wrong with the server and a bunch of other websites were also affected. I told him that one thing that I’ve taken away from this experience is that I need to back up our website NOW! He then emailed me the link to this youtube clip that explains the use of the trusty Filezilla!

Stop and Go Motion Video

With the Friday 23rd September deadline looming, Claudia and I set up a roadmap to execute all the work we still needed to do for the week ahead. The focus would be on ensuring our rich media was done first, and our written content second.

After interviewing Pierre-Louis Kloppers from CSAG (Climate Systems Analysis Groupt at the University of Cape Town), I had the idea of illustrating the South African climate visually, and the idea of a stop motion video was born. Claudia and I were new to this form of animation, but we were excited about incorporating something different into our site.

On Sunday the big project took place. Claudia created a light-box and set up the station as I prepared and reviewed the script and the materials used. We calculated that the clip would be 3 minutes long, and we want to use 10 frames per second, hence we would need 1800 photographs.

Needless to say that did not happen. We worked all afternoon. Claudia was photographer and I was in charge of the paper cut-outs. It was tedious, but the South African chill mix swinging in the background made it fun.

That being said, we only did manage 500 photographs, but will be able to edit around it.

We experienced another curveball this week.

Protests had started at the University of Cape Town on Friday 16 September on Upper Campus disrupting our website demonstration and feedback session. The alternative was to make our site live in order for our tutors to give feedback.

This is the (general) feedback for The Aqua Project:

  • Work on content and add an introduction section to contextualise the research.
  • To reconsider the titles used on the site to ensure that we give equal voice and standing to all parties included.
  • Ensure that all our rich media is completed and included on the site.

Unfortunately, the university has been closed from 19-23 September, challenging me to find new ways to interview my last three experts on climate change, El Nino and South African farmers.

Fortunately the deadline has been moved until Wednesday 28 September, which will give us enough time to assimilate the content, edit and include all the rich media we want to.


Week 8 Update

Claudia’s update:

It’s inevitable that our project would throw some curveballs at us – but never fear! We are prepared for anything! This week I experienced 2 curve balls.

Curveball one: Commercial farmer did not want to conduct a interview with us over the phone.

We were particularly excited to utilize the audio function in our “conversation with a commercial farmer” article, however, our commercial farmer felt extremely self-consciousness about his abilities in speaking english. So what we choose to do instead was send through a list of questions, and to our surprise, he replied in an extremely articulate manner. And to top it off – he supplied us with some fantastic photographs of life on the farm.

This experience got me thinking – there are so many tools at our disposal, and when pursuing a project of this sort, there is definitely an opportunity for a blended approach to interviews. This could include in-person conversations, phone calls, email exchanges, Whatsapp messages and more. The key is figuring out which approach works best for you and the story you’re working on.

However, it must be said that seeing sources in person is still the number one prize – this enables you to witness details that you wouldn’t be able to get via phone or email.

Curveball two: Video Translations.

This week we finally received the translations for our article that focuses on a rural area in Kwa-Zulu Natal called Muden. The individuals that were interviewed responded in Zulu, therefore we thought it would be best to get a zulu home language speaker to do the translation for us. We thought this would be the best (instead of using the translator’s words who assisted me on the day) so that we could be sure to accurately and precisely transcribe and translate the dialogue content of our video, in order to properly reflect the correct message in our video.

The curveball? The translation process has taken longer than what we thought it would… However, we’ve made up for it by directing energy and efforts into our other articles and have made good progress on them!

Soninke’s update:

This week signified the beginning of closing the loop and consolidating the information we have to start placing the content on our website.

It was a video, but it turns out this theme does not support video format. 

I spent the week taking a closer look and editing the footage from the interview with Director Andre Roux from Elsenburg. It consisted of transcribing the whole interview of forty minutes – a process that is tedious and tiring. Yet, incredibly important before I could start editing the footage and deciding what to keep and cut away.

Then I managed to highlight what I want to include in this interview, bearing in mind that my goal was to have it no longer than 4 minutes. That’s a lot of cutting!

So I pulled out three key points:

  1. The financial challenges farmers faced with the drought triggered by El Nino.
  2. The practise of ‘conservation farming’ as a means of adapting to increasing dry conditions in South Africa.
  3. The unseen implications of climate change, such as pests and diseases that are often invisible effects.

In addition to the video editing, it was consolidating the research I had undertaken to write up an introduction to the Subsistence Farmers Struggle chapter and start planning for the Challenges and Adaptions section. Claudia embarked to do the write up for El Nino.

We hope to display all content online by next Friday 23 September. Fingers crossed.


The start to our final term of undergrad – let’s do this!

Just before we broke up for our mid-term break, each group gave a short presentation to share where we all stand with our projects. Besides our usual supervisors, Anja Venter and Bhavana Harrilal, Dr. Martha Evans (Senior Lecturer in Media Studies and -Production) and Ron Irwin (Lecturer in Media Studies and -production) also sat in to find out how we were all doing.

Soninke and myself prepared a short powerpoint to highlight some key points of our progress.

Dr. Martha Evans gave some useful insight in regards to making the titles of our articles more “sexier” and we have subsequently been altering our articles to make them more appealing.

Furthermore Anja Venter provided a suggestion that “the final thing that will make or break the final form of the project is the two line summary on the landing page of the site that tells us what the site is about.”

Since the presentation and receiving this advice, we have gotten to work on a solution. We have have tested our theme and unfortunately discovered that it restricts us in allowing us in putting text in the header. So as a solution, we have created 3 aesthetically pleasing sections in the footer; one section provides information on the project, another will give host to a video that Soninke and myself will introduce ourselves in and the third section will contain social media icons. This is how it currently looks (the text in the “About the Project” section is still under revision and the video is just a placeholder for now).


We are also currently finalizing what rich media to use for each article and preparing to get stuck into video editing in the coming week! We’ll share our progress in this regard in our next blogpost!

TAP Planning Documentation and Development

The Aqua Project: Site Data

  • Site Name: The Aqua Project (TAP)
  • Keywords – environmentalism, environment, water, water scarcity, drought, drought in South Africa, climate change, El-Nino, agriculture, farming

About the Project

The Aqua Project will investigate the impact of the 2015-2016 drought in South Africa, by examining the impact on local climate, economy. It will particularly focus on the farming industry, as this sector was heavily impacted by the water shortages instigated by the El Nino. Furthermore, we glimpse into the future of South Africa without water.
The Aqua Project was launched as a part of our Senior Research Project at the University of Cape Town.

Word Smith: Soninke FINAL3

Currently pursuing a degree in Interactive Media, Media and Writing and Environmental and Geographical Science at the University of Cape Town. I have previous work experience working for an online environmental newspaper called Green Times and have continued with my passion for writing and storytelling by keeping an environmental blog alongside my studies. My role in The Aqua Project is a content producer and researcher. I will also focus on enhancing the user experience on our interactive website.

Computer Whizz: Claudia FINAL

I’ve been described as something of a maverick, currently pursuing a BA in Film and Media Production (Interactive Media). Having previously completed a 2-year full-time photography course, I continue to pursue my photography as well as dabbling in all things digital. My encounters with diverse cultures and people from different backgrounds continue to inform my approach to all the work that I do. Claudia’s role within The Aqua Project is managing the technical side of things – from the website, filming/photographing and editing.

Getting to know our users

The users of our website are NGO’s, people that want to be more educated about the drought such as academics and commercial farmers. Unfortunately, subsistence farmers often times don’t have the means and resources to access this information.

  • Academically inclined/curious
  • Higher LSM groups (access to internet)

Users need accurate and relevant information in a clear and understandable format.

Our site is formulated and set up in such way as to conceptualize the stories in an appealing and interactive. It will be very visual to illustrate the various aspects of the project. Users are able to access the information they want swiftly and easily.

Examples of Personas:

1-s2.0-S1462901109000604-mainAlicia is a top Environmental Science student who wants to learn more about the El Nino to integrate into her essay. Michael is an elderly man who has a background in academics who wants to pursue further reading after reading an article on the drought in SA. Pete is a wealthy individual who wants to research the drought in SA before donating a significant amount of money to an NGO assisting struggling farmers. A child doing a project for school on how climate change in South Africa affects people.

Site Objectives

The goal of our site is to educate and potentially be used as a fundraising tool. These targets will be measured using the following tools: download

  • Google analytics
  • User interaction on media platforms
  • Link backs and references to our site

Site Content and Structure:

The functional features of the site is set out below and will better explain the layout of the site. It is essential to know that the website will be divided into six thumbnails for the content, which will be divided up categorically, grouping together relevant bits of information.

Introductory section: The idea of the site is to tell a story about South Africa and water with the threat of climate change fast becoming a reality. South Africa is already a water scarce country, a scarcity that will only be compounded with the advent of climate. This past El-Nino in 2015 – 2016 offers a brief glimpse into the future of South Africa, a country with diverse ecosystems and climate (systems). The effects of the El-Nino manifested in severe drought and sudden, heavy storms and flooding. The Aqua Project hopes to clearly illustrate the anticipated effects of climate change by using the recent El Nino as a future scenario. The project will contextualise South Africa’s present climatic system, the severity of the most recent El-Nino and the (potential landscape) of climate change. As water is a valuable resource that is utilised across all sectors, The Aqua Project will choose to focus the agricultural sector.

Contextualising South Africa’s climate and explaining El-Nino: This section will aim to inform the viewer about South Africa’s present climate, which is rather diverse, as the Western Cape region has a Mediterranean climate which differs from the rest of the country. It will also broach the topic of climate change and how that will affect the climate and environment in South Africa by focussing on the change in rainfall patterns and increasing drought conditions. The El-Nino phenomenon will also be explained on a global scale as well as on a local scale, elucidating the effects of this occurrence on South Africa by drawing from the most recent event in 2015-2016. As this section will be rather scientific, efforts will be made to employ rich media to assist in simplifying it for viewers, such as graphics and video. Information will be drawn from governmental documents to discuss the present state of environment, supplemented by interviews with Dr. Lennard and Dr. Babatunde from the Environmental and Geographical Science Department at the University of Cape Town.

South African Hydrology: To circle back to the idea of South Africa as a story about water, there will be a section dedicated to the state of water in South Africa. We are a semi-arid country that already suffers water shortages, but with the advent of climate change we risk receiving less rainfall with increasing drought conditions. This chapter will contextualise South Africa’s water situation by drawing on facts from governmental documents, and then look at the challenges that are affecting water management. This area will be briefly touched on, and will mostly be used to place in a place of understanding to navigate the rest of the site with our country’s state of water in mind. In this section information will be taken from Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG), as well as from an interview conducted with Karen Shippey, Director of Environmental Sustainability with the Department of Environmental Affairs.  The method of storytelling for this part will employ infographics to indicate the acuteness of the present water shortage.

Conversations with a commercial farmer: Commercial farmers have felt the effects of the El-Nino heavily. This past year has indicated how wide the impacts of the drought can be felt in the agricultural industry, through sharp hikes in food prices, food shortages, and influences on farming practises such as receiving late rains, not enough rain or flash floods. This chapter hopes to flesh out the challenges and experiences of a commercial farmer in South Africa in a changing environment. Dr. Andre Roux, Director of Sustainable Resource Management at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, has been consulted to expound on the trials faced by commercial farmers. Dr. Peter Johnston from the African Climate & Development Initiative will tell us about the relationship between the climate and agriculture, as well as the importance of communication between climatologists and farmers. An interview will also be with a commercial farmer to hear about the pressures experienced in drought conditions. The viewer will be supplied with this information through enriched media, using audio for the interview with the commercial farmer and a video interview with Dr. Andre Roux.

Subsistence Farming: Apart from being a trying time for commercial farmers, emerging and subsistence farmers have also suffered in the wake of the 2015-2016 El-Nino. We investigate the extent of this by conducting a case study of cattle farmers in Muden, Kwazulu-Natal, that has undergone erratic weather changes this past year. This section will also highlight the underwhelming support given to subsistence farmers (through education, technology and funding), who find themselves rather vulnerable in these drought conditions. The Aqua Project hopes to tease out what support systems could offer to assist the subsistence farming in sustaining their livelihood through interviewing an official at AgriSA. Video footage will be presented to tell the story of the farmers in Muden, accompanied by images.

Challenges and Adaption Protocols: The final chapter will house a summary of what threatens South African farmers about a changing climate and state of environment in South Africa. It will also explore various options that are available for farmers to improve their farming methods by providing resources about smart farming like ‘conservation farming’, inserting contact details to relevant individuals to assist with smart farming, and perhaps to create a page for raising funds to help support farmers during these trying times.

Timeline for Project: 

Functional Features

For our senior research project, we are using WordPress as the platform to build our website. One of the reasons we decided to go this route was because wanted to utilize the very powerful Aesop Story Engine (ASE) plugin.

Longform is the only free WordPress theme designed to be fully compatible with ASE, thus we have chosen to use this form to build our website.

ASE is a plugin that has one particular purpose: to enhance the storytelling experience of long-form articles. It has a variety of components such as audio & video, chapters, timeline and more that all have different functions to enhance the user experience. Since this plugin allows its author to move away from extensive coding, more energy can be put into producing content.


Our website aims to fall in line with a visual identity of an environmental, academic resource portal. Therefore the look has to be clean, but there still needs to reference an environmental outlook. This is mainly achieved through the logo and color scheme which utilizes “earthy” colors that illustrate water and drought (brown, orange and blue). The colours of the logo also match other elements on the website such as hover buttons etc.

The layout of the website is setup in a grid form which presents text heavy articles in an easily distinguishable format. More information is displayed when the user hovers over a particular image.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 2.35.13 PM

Since the start of our project, our logo has developed and moved away from what we thought was a more sterile representation (perhaps similar to what a recycling company would use), to what we have today. We believe it is a more honest representation of our overall theme (water scarcity, drought etc.) and also takes a more modern approach relating to our interests in interactive media.

Different phases of the logo. Credit: Claudia Emanuel.

User Testing

We would prefer to present our website testing users with a list of questions to answer. We will either ask testers for written answers or just verbal answers. However, we will probably get more honest replies with written answers.

These are the type of questions we plan to ask:

  • Have you visited this site before? –The answer to this question may affect their first impressions of the website. 
  • What do you think the purpose of this site is? (ie. selling, informing, entertainment, etc)
  • Was it easy to get to the home page from the page you started on? – The answer to this question will help us assess our website’s navigation.
  • Was anything too obtrusive?
  • Was anything too well hidden?
  • Easy to read (both font style and size)?
  • Any complaints about the website’s aesthetics?
  • How did you find the layout of the site?
  • Name your three favorite things about the site, and your three least favorite

We are also particularly inspired by Luis von Ahn’s TED talk on Duolingo’s unorthodox approach to user testing:

Roadtrip to Elsenburg

This week we have made another leap towards gathering content for our project. After a lot of organising (and re-organising) I managed to secure an interview with Andre Roux, Director of Sustainable Resource Management at the Department of Agriculture. I was excited to dig in and get started, and had started preparing my questions weeks in advance already.

As it would entail an early morning escapade to Stellenbosch, I spent the night at Claudia in Blouberg so we could embark on an early morning mission together.

Claudia researching away at a restaurant. Credit: Soninke Combrinck

Dinner was Mexican, and we poured over a piece of paper donated by our waiter with a pen that was stuck in his aloe-vera hair. Claudia and I took this time to refine our thumbnails for our website (that is to say, our main topics) and to pick at any new questions we could ask Roux in our interview the next morning. After frozen margaritas (not an apt choice) and Oreo tequila we set off home to further discuss The Aqua Project.

Our alarms went off at 5am and we drearily got up, got dressed and got in the car to set off to Elsenburg. The headquarters of the WEstern Cape Department of Agriculture is settled in a wine valley near Stellenbosch. It was a beautiful morning. We arrived at 7am and had 2 hours to kill, so we took some footage of the location and the surrounding farms.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 12.18.29 PM
Travelling from Blouberg to Elsenburg

After shooting, we settled in to the cafeteria (Claudia had her second cappuccino for the day) and discussed the interview as we watched the sun rise over the Wemmershoek mountains.

We were a bit anxious about our first interview. Okay, more excited to get going. We had brought Claudia’s Nikon and tripod with an external microphone – we were geared to go.

At 9 am we met up with Andre Roux. He invited us into the conference room where we set up for the interview. Our first interview ran smoothly, Claudia conducted and directed us, rearranging to ensure that we got the optimum light and to ensure the audio quality was good.

Soninke and Andre Roux discussing the impacts of the 2015 drought on farming in South Africa. 

Andre and I had a very interesting conversation. We spoke mostly about how the drought had impacted the Western Cape, and the varying effects it had on established commercial farmers vs. emerging farmers. He enlightened us to the ‘unseen’ effects of climate change, including the pests and the drop in ‘chill units’ which hinders a plant’s production. He also shared some interesting technologies available for ‘conservation farming’ in oppose to ‘conventional farming’. He was passionate about sustainable agriculture and resource management and we managed to get a well of information from him.

The video footage was great. His portion would definitely get a thumbnail of his own. We got a lot of footage that would need careful perusal and editing.

And just like that, the interview was over. Claudia and I packed up and prepared to head back to Cape Town to resume the afternoon’s classes. The process went smoothly and we both played to our strengths. Claudia is a whizz with the camera, and I love having interesting conversations with people. It was a win-win.

Claudia (left) and Soninke (right) with our visitors badges at Elsenburg. Credit : Soninke Combrinck

Recapping on July

As I started typing “drought in South Africa” into Google, I became overwhelmed with all the news stories circulating around this pressing scenario. All the sites are reporting about the drastic water shortages faced across the country, and I have to acknowledge I am quite sheltered living in Cape Town, in the Western Cape, as we have at least had consistent water supply.

The effects of the drought are still being felt across the country. Food prices are expected to increase again in August 2016. Suggestions have been made by AgriSA to the government to lift the food import restrictions and to fund farmers through the Land Bank. However, the month of August is also when all the farmer’s loans are due. So far South African goodwill has raised R10 million for commercial and emerging farmers, but attention is being turned to the farm labourers, who are also vulnerable to the drought conditions (Daily Maverick).

“The drought is not the story of the farmers, either emerging or commercial. It’s about farm workers, the total rural population,” AgriSA president Johannes Möller.

It rained, what now?

Although we have experienced rainfall throughout the country this past week, it appears to not have made much of a dent in South Africa’s drought situation, according to Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder (News24). These are the dam level statistics from Kwazulu-Natal, the province that seems to pop up as the drought hotspot:

  • Nagle Dam: 54,2 mm
  • Inanda Dam: 57,0 mm
  • Albert Falls Dam: 49,2 mm
  • Hazelmere Dam: 42,5 mm

The level of Nagle Dam was at 65,10% yesterday, unchanged from Friday. Albert Falls Dam was at 27,58% yesterday, up from 27% on Friday. The level of Inanda Dam remained unchanged at 68%, while Hazelmere Dam dropped by 0,27% and stands at 42,73% (information taken from News24)

 This video shows aerial footage of the Hazelmere Dam in Kwazulu-Natal (the Greytown catchment) on November 07 2015, and compares it to the normal dam levels at that time of year:

This video was taken from Drought SA.

African Water Week

The sixth African Water Week conference (AWW6) took place between 18-22 July in Tanzania to discuss ‘achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on water security and sanitation’ (AllAfrica). The statistics are frightening: according to Vice-President, Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan, over 800 millions people lack access to safe drinking water, and 40% of them live in Africa. And although the Millennium Development Goals helped 322 million Africans gain access to clean drinking water, the continent is challenged through a rapid population growth and a boom in economic activities.

Some good news…

Kiari Nirghin, master mind behind No More Thirsty Crops.

Kiara Nirghin, a 16 year old girl from Johannesburg, has won the regional award for Middle East and Africa in the Google Science Fair’s Community Impact Award for finding a way to combat drought (VenturesSA).

The project is called ‘No More Thirsty Crops’ and uses orange and avocado peels to create a super absorbent polymer (SAP) that acts as a reservoir in the earth. The SAP will hold 300x more liquid than its own weight “keeping crops hydrated for longer at a much lower cost.”

-story by Hadassah Egbedi in VenturesSA.

By Soninke


Exploring Themes and Interactivity

As the weeks progress it is easy to get lost on the goal of the project. The Aqua Project is built around the theme of the drought in South Africa, which was worsened by the El Nino climatic phenomenon. But this project will also look beyond the present conditions in South Africa to see what the future looks like as result of long term climate change.

This is just to re-envision the crux of the project:

  • Investigate how the drought of 2015-2016 affect the South African climate.
  • To see how it has affected the farming communities in South Africa in terms of personal cost and what it has cost the government.
  • To enquire how the most vulnerable groups were affected by the drought, and we chose to focus on subsistence farmers in South Africa, using a farming community in Muden, Kwazulu-Natal, as a case study.
  • Lastly, to represent possible solutions and adaptive protocols to assist those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

All the talks about economics and climate change can be a bit of a dry topic (excuse the pun), but we hope to keep viewers engaged through various interactive features on the website.

Here are a few interesting websites we have decided to use as reference points or inspiration:

  1. WWF has generated an interactive Water Risk Filter that illustrates how severely different agricultural industries are affected across South Africa:

    Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.59.21 AM
    This is an example of the Water Risk Map in action, indicating how plant production will be affected across South Africa by the drought. Source: The Water Risk Filter
  2. I was really inspired by this site’s method of digital storytelling. Folha de S.Paulo discusses the controversy of a construction project in Brazil which is being built on a site with great cultural history and environmental significance. It combines various visual elements, including infographics, full screen photographs, videos, maps and slideshows. The method of writing also draws on a lot of statistics, interviews, and diverse sources. In addition, the site has been smartly divided into five sections: construction, environment, society, indigenous people and history. I respect how this site manages to engage the user’s attention throughout the user experience. It has a lot of content, but through careful placement of visual content it leads the user through the entire story. We hope to draw on this method of our digital story on the drought in South Africa. 


It does seem a bit like a black hole – as soon as you enter discussions around climate change and agriculture a whole new world opens up, and all these tiny innovative projects pop up. Take SmartAgri for instance, it is a collaborative project between the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, The Department of Environmental Affairs and the University of Cape Town’s African Climate and Development Initiative. It is is aimed at creating sustainable climate smart responses for increased resilience in agriculture.  See the following:

The amount of technology available to assist in climate-smart decisions is abundant. We just need to remember that there is an unequal distribution of knowledge and access to information. As result, many of the subsistence farmers do not have access to information that would be beneficial to their agricultural practises.

By Soninke





Filming in Muden, Kwazulu-Natal

On establishing that we wanted to base our project on the current drought crisis in South Africa, Soninke and myself both agreed that we needed to incorporate the stories of local voices. Racking our brains on how exactly we were going to do that, I started asking around and discovered I in fact had a really great lead to interview local, subsistence farmers in Muden, KZN. My mother’s partner organizes a yearly navigational endurance race, Valley to Valley, that takes riders through challenging terrains. In order for him to successfully organize the event, Roger has to get the permission from local community headsman to have a mass of motorbikes travel through their lands. Fortunately, this local community is thrilled with the event and look forward to it every year. As the event grows from strength to strength every year, Roger has established a great relationship with the local community and this has lead me having the opportunity to interview them for this project.

Muden, the area in question, is a township on the Mooi River, 24 km northwest of Greytown and 38 km southeast of Weenen. As it stands, it has undeniably been hit by a drought. This was evident everywhere I looked as I travelled with Roger and Cole, my translator, in the Land Rover. Among the rocky terrain, the only flora that seemed to be surviving was hardy, extremely water wise vegetation such as aloe and cacti.

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Muden, located in Kwazulu-Natal.

The road was extremely dusty as we ascended up into the hills of Muden. I gave up with the idea of keeping the film of brown dust off my skin, as it seemed to filter through every available opening into the Land Rover. As we travelled to the first member of the community that we were going to interview, Roger stopped along the way so that I could capture a few images of a dried up river bed, a dried up circular concrete dam, a small huddle of cattle and the vast dry landscape from a higher vantage point. As I captured these images, he proceeded to place a few markers for his upcoming endurance event.

The first individual we were to interview was very surprised to see us. My translator explained to him in Zulu why I was there and why I wanted to interview him and he eagerly obliged. He organized a seat next to his water containers and I proceeded to ask him a number of questions that Soninke and myself had compiled. After our interview, he showed me around his homestead and introduced me to his wife that was sitting in the shade of their hut while she re-beaded a part of her apparel.

The second individual that we set off to interview was a well-respected elder in the community. On arrival at his homestead, I couldn’t help but marvel at the size of it and the amount of children running around. It was a small community all of its own. We asked around and we were advised that he was currently attending to some crops that he had. So we walked to the outskirts of his homestead shouting his name until we finally found him accompanied by his pack of  Africanis dogs. 

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He first showed us his maize plantation and I thought to interview him amongst the plants, but the wind caused the plants to be too noisy which interrupted the recording on the mic. So we moved the interview into the dried-up riverbed close to his homestead. As we conducted the interview, all of his grandchildren peered curiously down at us from the top of the banks.

After the interview, we walked back to the Land Rover and noticed the water truck about to leave after delivering the weekly ration of water. This really emphasized the fact why I was there as part of this project.

I was utterly exhausted as we left the hills of Muden. It was still a long drive back to Greytown where Roger had some work to attend to and then back to Balgowan. In total, it was a day with a lot of driving.  

Washing off the film of dust from my skin in the shower that evening, I couldn’t help but be utterly thankful for the free flowing water that streamed from the taps.

By Claudia