There is an argument that Developing Climate-Smart Agri-Food Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa is a precondition for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Global Challenges Research Fund – Agricultural and Food-System Resilience: Increasing Capacity and Advising Policy (GCRF-AFRICAP) programme is a direct response to this challenge. This initiative seeks to build capacity for co-developing and demonstrating nationally owned Sustainable Development Goal compliant agri-food development pathways that can be productive, sustainable and climate smart. These pathways are informed by national characteristics and development priorities, as well as consistency with global mitigation objectives for the agriculture, forestry and land-use sectors. The project undertakes detailed work in four African countries, namely Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. In South Africa, the location was determined after taking into considerations all the requirements (farming systems) such as an area where commercial farms are in close proximity to smallholders’ farmers and an area with most, if not all, the identified products among other things. 

Importantly, the decision was made that two District Municipalities of the Free State Province, Thabo Mofutsanyane and Lejweleputswa, be used as the location for the household survey. One of the unique advantages of the Free State is that it borders with almost all the Provinces except Limpopo and the locations of the districts provide for the optimisation of the geographic advantage. Therefore, all Local Municipalities and District Municipalities of the neighbouring provinces are part of this project. In terms of this survey, a sample of three hundred and ninety-eight (n=398) farmers from Lejweleputswa (175) and Thabo Mofutsanyane (223), were interviewed. These figures include subsistence, smallholder and commercial farmers. 

The results suggest that farming in these districts is predicated on family structure. In many instances, children are less involved in farming due to school attendance or migrant work elsewhere. In addition, the head of the household took full responsibility for the farm. Access to land for smallholder farmers remains a problem. In terms of the farmers with access, this was mainly was pasture land (55 %) and active cultivation land (45 %), suggesting that the study sites are more likely to be suitable for the production of livestock and crops. As expected, woodland was the least prevalent type of land to which households had access, which can be attributed to unsuitable climatic conditions for forestry in the chosen study sites. 

Evidence from data shows that maize, potatoes, sunflowers, soybeans and dry beans were the first main crops respectively. Other crops that were harvested included beetroot, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, pumpkins and butternuts. The area planted for the these ranged from 0.5 ha to 120 ha. This further implies that the reasons for growing vegetables range from home consumption to commercial surplus production. The farmers indicated that traditionally, planting starts in September, but they had started to shift towards planting around November due to prolonged dry spells. Moreover, due to the drought, farmers had delayed planting up until January in extreme situations to catch up with the changing climate. The results show that maize production was market oriented, as indicated by larger quantities that went into the market versus the quantity used for home consumption. Maize is the main crop for most farmers. The survey found that farmers sold in various markets; however, the most prominent channel was through co-operatives. With regard to transportation, the majority of farmers used their own transport to deliver produce to the market, while 30% used hired transport. The survey showed that only sixty 15% of the farmers applied irrigation. The sources of water for irrigation were commonly from boreholes. 

In terms of livestock in both the district municipalities, approximately 81% of the 398 households interviewed kept livestock in their households – either cattle, sheep, goats or chickens, or a combination thereof. Of the two district municipalities, it was found that more households in Thabo Mofutsanyane (190) than in Lejweleputswa (131) were involved in livestock farming.  The main types of livestock kept were cattle, sheep, goats and chickens for several reasons – either for commercial or food security purposes or both.

The results also revealed that some farmers had changed their farming practices and other farmers were willing to change. The farmers who had changed their farming practices employed the use of boreholes, or bought more tanks, bought feed for livestock, or delayed planting. The impact of natural disasters such as climate change, leading to drought, has a dire effect on agricultural production. Agriculture relies on climate and water availability to thrive, thus it is easily impacted by natural events and disasters. It was evident that in the past four years most of the farmers experienced unusual or unexpected weather patterns. Although farmers were applying historical knowledge in dealing with the effects of climate change, more adaptation and mitigation strategies are needed in both crop and livestock farming practices.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Mzansi Agriculture Talk or its members.

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