The current water scarcity situation in South Africa is a threat to sustainable development. The present paper has assessed the water footprint of milk produced and processed in South Africa using the procedures outlined in the water footprint assessment manual. The results show that 1352 m3
of water is required to produce one tonne of milk with 4% fat and 3.3% protein in South Africa. The water used in producing feed for lactating cows alone accounts for 86.35% of the total water footprint of milk. The water footprint of feed ration for lactating cows is about 85% higher than that of non-lactating cows. Green water footprint accounts for more than 86% of the total water footprint of feed ration for lactating cows. Green and blue water footprints are the highest contributors to the total water footprint milk production in South Africa. Water used for feed production for both lactating and non-lactating cows accounts for about 99% of the total water footprint of milk production in South Africa. Particular attention should be given to feed crops with low water footprints and high contribution to dry matter to provide balanced ration with low water footprint. Water users, managers and livestock producers should pay attention to green and blue water consumption activities along the milk value chain and design strategies to minimize them. Corn, sorghum and lucerne production under irrigation in the greater Orange River basin is sustainable, whereas oats production for silage in the same catchment area is not sustainable. Our findings provide the rationale for dairy producers and water users in the dairy industry to get an understanding of the degree of sustainability of their input and output combinations, production choices, and policy interventions, in terms of water use.
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