Africa Talk

Are these the early warning signs for smallholder farmers?

South African farmers have seen with shock the changing events of weather patterns taking place. All these activities have altered the face of agricultural planning with many smallholder farmers not knowing where to turn to. Cyclone Eloise for one, devasted crops in Mozambique and in the Limpopo basin. Mzansi Agriculture Talk has been covering topics on climate smart agriculture (CSA) for a while. In this edition, Mr Tshepo Phaahla (President & CEO of Mzansi Agri Talk) speaks to two leading policy experts in CSA, Dr Tshilidzi Madzivhandila (CEO and Head of Mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)) and Mr Bonani Nyhodo (Senior Manager at National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC). FANRPAN is an Africa-wide network of country-based policy action Nodes that are groups of existing policy institutions with technical expertise and food, agriculture and natural resources (FANR) stakeholders collaborating to address policy bottlenecks. The NAMC provides agricultural marketing advisory services to key stakeholders in support of a vibrant agricultural marketing system in South Africa, and is also  the FANRPAN Node in South Africa.

Tshepo: Gentlemen, we are in unprecedented weather times, farmers are panicking about changing weather patterns, what does this mean for them? 

Bonani: I would put it as sceptical. Farmers we had engagements on a number of occasions were finding it hard to accept that climate change was a reality, and adaptation and mitigation was critical for their farming future. Unfortunately, most had hope that one day, things will return to normal.

Tshilidzi: We had conducted few studies to analyze the factors influencing the level of CSA adoption among South African smallholder farmers and in other part of the continent. Generally, despite the potential benefits, adoption of CSA-relevant technologies is still generally low, especially in Sub Saharan Africa. 

Tshepo: Just where in South Africa if I may interject was CSA studies conducted? 

Tshilidzi: Through the GCRF-AFRICAP project, A study was conducted in King Cetshwayo District Municipality, Free State Province, and found that use of organic manure, crop rotation and crop diversification were the most popular CSA practices among the sampled farmers. Educational status, farm income, farming experience, size of farmland, contact with agricultural extension, exposure to media, agricultural production activity, membership of an agricultural association or group and the perception of the impact of climate change were found to influence the level of CSA adoption.

Bonani: In partnership with FANRPAN, We conducted an GCRF-AFRICAP Baseline Household Survey Report for South Africa in 2019 in the Free State. In relation to farming practices, households were asked whether their farming practices have changed as a result of weather-based shocks such as drought, outbreaks of pests or diseases and floods. The results revealed that farmers did change their farming practices and while others farmers indicated their willingness to change. 

Tshepo: Interesting, so there are farmers practising CSA and those willing to adopt but it is not a greater scale, would say? 

Bonani: From the GCRF-AFRICAP survey results, there was a clear indication that some of the farmers in the Free State had identified areas that had started planting late in terms of field crops. They had also made use of one of the CSA practises in one way or the other.

Tshepo: It would seem CSA does not resonate widely with farmers and policy makers, what are the perceptions you would have experienced? 

Tshilidzi: With regards to policymakers, at national level there is wide recognition of the potential benefits of CSA and the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD) has been deliberately promoting it.  FANRPAN has been part of the process of the development of IMPLEMENTATION GUIDELINES accompanying the CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPATION AND MITIGATION PLAN FOR THE AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY AND FISHERIES (CCAMP) SECTOR which clearly identifies key CSA practices as measures to be adopted.

Bonani: Broadly speaking on our side, we would put it that CSA does resonate with South African farmers. Farmers in the GCRF-AFRICAP study were aware of the climate smart agriculture and this worried them as they indicated effects and impacts of climate change in their enterprises. Amongst others, the decrease in agricultural production and delayed planting seasons. As a result of climate change farmers have started using indigenous knowledge to reduce the effects of climate change. 

Tshepo: We have reported on models after models regarding climate change, what are the current models predicting on climate smart agriculture for farmers and policy makers to be aware off? 

Tshilidzi: Through the partnership with the University of Leeds under the GCRF-AFRICAP programme, we have access to world class climate change research and data. For instance, our colleagues at the UK Met office who are leading the work on weather extremes which have significant implications for human lives and livelihoods through their adverse impacts on food, energy and water security, health and vital infrastructure. The team is working to better understand weather extremes across East and Southern Africa, using the UK Met Office’s state-of-the-art climate models combined with sophisticated statistical analysis of weather observations. The research indicates that we are going to have an increase in the number of extremely hot days and we are going to see more extreme high summer temperatures and droughts are associated with El niño conditions.

Tshepo: How do both institutions plan to bring about greater awareness about CSA? 

Bonani: NAMC in collaborations with FANRPAN has built stakeholder relations with both private and public sector. It must be made clear that climate change is an inherent part of ethical trade. Through its participation with these stakeholders, it will ensure that it advocates for climate smart agriculture in policy and in practise. From time to time with FANRPAN, through AFRICAP the NAMC will organise workshops to inform farmers of climate change. 

Tshilidzi: Creating awareness and raising the profile of CSA by promoting CSA success stories and opportunities to smallholder farmers. Adoption rates hinge on subjective variables such as farmers’ awareness of new practices, personal willingness to adopt them, and overall concern for the problem the practice aims to address. Farmers may be generally willing to adopt new practices, but perceive a specific practice to be inadequate, unnecessary, or difficult to incorporate into existing management systems.

Tshepo: As FANRPAN, in your experience in Africa, how important is it for government to get on board with the CSA programme?  

Tshilidzi: Creating an enabling environment by strengthening institutions, policies and governance structures that enhance CSA adoption is critical. Institutional investment in agricultural communities (infrastructure, extension services, health care) will affect farmers’ ability to absorb risk and, in turn, adopt new practices. Legal and political frameworks also influence adoption rates. An example was sighted as policy on informal seed fairs and genetic resources can affect farmers’ ability to save seed of locally tolerant varieties or access improved varieties through exchange with other farmers. Thus, technological, social, economic, and institutional factors all play a role in whether target CSA practices can or will be adopted, both within farming communities and on the national and regional scales. 

Tshepo: In one of the Leeds University reports, mention was made off CSA benefits, where banks and landing institutions can promote CSA through facilitation of access to finance and credit for smallholder farming opting to adopt CSA. Is this viable? 

Bonani: In my view, smallholder farmers avoid taking risk in their farming operations. Thus, there should be enough financial guarantees to secure their family livelihoods. Without these various forms of financial support, farmers can hedge financial risks by adopting CSA piecemeal or on a fraction of their farm.

Tshildzi: Indeed, I support that notion because in doing so, it will reduce short-term expenditures and allow the farmer to guard against the possibility that yields will drop before they rise. Piecemeal adoption is a logical strategy at the household level, but makes it difficult to institutionalize CSA rapidly over large areas. Also, mainstreaming CSA in national development programmes was imperative as currently such programmes did not emphasize climate smart agriculture as mechanism to address climate change issues. 

Tshepo: Gentlemen, I thank you for your time and shared knowledge, we should next time take this conversation digitally, for all our farmers to ask those critical questions. 

Bonani: Indeed, it is a welcomed suggestion. Tshildzi: We will consider it.

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