The changing weather patterns in South Africa are expected to adversely impact its agricultural sector, which had been growing over the past few years. Irregular rainfall, high temperatures, and insistent Fall Armyworm infestation are expected to lower cereal crop production scenarios for 2018 in Southern Africa. In the absence of steady rains for the remainder of the season, water supplies are also predicted to be reduced for domestic, agricultural and commercial use, with potentially far-reaching consequences on access to adequate food and nutrition for the 2018/19 consumption year.
Corn is the most important cereal crop in the country. The 2018 corn harvest is ongoing in the eastern parts of the country and the crop is almost ready to harvest in the western regions. Total commercial corn plantings for 2018 are expected to shrink by 6% on a yearly basis, driven by lower sowings for white corn.
South Africa produces 3.9% of the world’s wine and the country’s vineyards are harvested in February and March. However, the 2018 harvest of wine grapes is expected to be much smaller than the estimated 1,434,328 metric ton produced in 2017.
With the country facing extreme weather conditions in the form of droughts, floods, etc. the agricultural productivity is also becoming more of a concern for South Africa. Government programs focusing on the issue are likely to help resolve the problem of climate change to a certain extent, but newer and better technologies, with more investments into R&D in the agricultural sector, are the need of the hour.
Vagaries of Nature Adversely Affecting South Africa’s Agricultural Sector
South Africa is capable of producing a variety of crops owing to its varying temperature zones ranging from arid to more temperate ones. However, as temperatures have been rising continuously over the years and are expected to further rise over the next 50 years, with rainfall projected to become less regular, the agricultural production in South Africa is expected to be badly hit. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRPI), only about 11% of South Africa’s geographical area is available for crop production. Of this, only 22% is high-potential arable land and only 1.5% of the country’s agricultural land (1.3 million hectares) is under irrigation. Other than this, the primary commercial agriculture contributes about 3% to South Africa’s GDP. However, due to strong backward and forward linkages, the agro-industrial sector is estimated to compose a comparatively higher share of the GDP in the coming years.
The area under wheat production in South Africa increased by 5% in the 2016-17. This was mainly due to the drought conditions of 2016 in the summer grain producing area that forced farmers to increase winter wheat production as an alternative. The total cereal production in 2017 was well above the above-average level of 19.5 million metric ton, which was an upsurge of 84% compared with the drought-affected 2016 output. Owing to its geographic location, some parts of South Africa are already affected by droughts, floods, cyclones, and veld fires, among other natural hazards. The El Niño-related weather settings perceived in 2016 transformed to weak La Niña-related weather conditions in 2017.
Climate change, however, is anticipated to aggravate the current condition. With the existing situation ridden with low adaptive capacity throughout the value chain, the South African agricultural sector is highly susceptible to the harsh effects of climate change and the resultant increase in climate variability. The consequent changes in regional water endowments and soil moisture would also affect the productivity of cropland, leading to changes in food production, and international trade patterns for the country as a result of climate change.
Increasing R&D in Agriculture is the Need of the Hour
To enable South African farmers to adapt to the hostile consequences of global climate change, the country would require investments in agricultural research and development, aimed at huge and rapid yield improvements, coupled with climate-smart initiatives at farm-level. The economic costs of steadying greenhouse gas concentrations over the coming century depend critically on the development of new technologies in the energy sector. With emerging technologies like hydroponics, aeroponics, and precision farming technology, a lot of resource-optimization can be infused into the country’s agricultural ecosystem and productivity can be enhanced without compromising with the environment.
As a result of such hazards, many initiatives are being taken by the government. For instance, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries has established the Climate Change Sector Plan and Climate Change Programme to ensure a sustainable and lucrative agricultural sector.
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