The actionable guidelines on climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices, released in 2020 by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) clearly ignore or miss the realities of small scale farmers. South Africa has close to 2.5 million small scale farmers that are spread across the country. With 11 different languages, with farmers having different levels of literacy and varying exposure to digital technology, building the capacity and knowledge of small scale farmers on CSA is a daunting task, one that requires support and coordination.
CSA focuses on three themes that aim to change agricultural systems, namely; by contributing to sustainable and equitable increases in productivity and incomes; promoting greater adaptation and resilience of food systems to climate change from the farm to the national level; and, reducing, or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, CSA is the responsibility of the government, tasked with ensuring significant increases to agricultural investments, and establishing an enabling environment to allow public and private investments.
Although this daunting task is part of DEFF’s mandate, the department has to date produced a 108 page document that speaks only of theories, without tangible policy interventions. DEFF’s approach aligns with the ‘popular scholarly solution’ which considers CSA as a knowledge intensive discipline that requires considerable institutional support. As if to confirm, DEFF guidelines were authored by academics, thus do not take into account the conditions and requirements of small scale farmers or farmers currently practising CSA.
“Governments must also ensure that infrastructure such as public transportation networks are well-designed and resilient to the impacts of climate change and that information systems are up to date, capable of monitoring changing climatic conditions and responding to crises. There is also a need for vertical coordination between local, regional, provincial and national governments to ensure coherence in policies that support the development of climate-smart food systems” said the FAO.
Yet there is hope for the DEFF to redress this situation. For starters, the establishment of a dedicated CSA Unit that acknowledges and amalgamates the wider scope of scientific evidence on CSA will go a long way towards integrating the various practical approaches to implementation. The department should also adopt lessons from a number of organisations that have registered success with CSA.
The Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) has conducted extensive studies in various African countries, and is available to provide technical support. CSA is one of the two focus areas of the multi-country pan-African policy network’s strategic plan from 2016 to 2023. “Given the diverse expertise across the network, FANRPAN is available and willing to provide technical support to any country or organisation on the continent”, said Dr. Tshilidzi Madzivhandila, the CEO and Head of Mission of FANRPAN.
On a local perspective, the South African Sugar Research Institute (SASRI) is one of the few organisations genuinely walking the talk of CSA, and is acknowledged and glorified by DEFF. To its credit, SASRI provides digital support for small crane growers by producing and disseminating podcasts and training videos in IsiZulu. SASRI’s work presents a brilliant opportunity for DEFF to package a comprehensive offering that gives practical approaches for CSA implementation to small-scale farmers, thus triggering widespread adoption.
There is need for all actors, including DEFF to appreciate that the ability of CSA to achieve its main objectives is dependent on the scale of its adoption. This is echoed by the authors of the article, ‘Climate Smart Agriculture and global food production’ (De Pinto et al, PLOS ONE 15), who highlight the need for wide and cross-sector implementation, with significant support and coordination, for CSA to make a sufficiently large impact on global GHG emissions.
Emphasising the need for support and coordination, Mr Bonani Nyhodo, Senior Manager at the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), highlighted how farmers tend to be risk averse, thus will avoid adopting CSA if it is introduced without firm support. “In my view, smallholder farmers avoid taking risk in their farming operations. Without adequate financial guarantees to secure their family livelihoods, farmers will adopt CSA on a piecemeal basis, or experiment with it on a portion of their farm”, said Mr Nyhodo.