Devastating climate change knowledge gaps among smallholder farmers in Amathole District Municipality

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A “profound knowledge gap” exists amongst smallholder farmers from the Eastern Cape’s Amathole area about the country’s climate change response policy, research done by UFH shows.

Oluwabunmi Oluwaseun Popoola, Shehu Folaranmi Gbolahan Yusuf and Nomakhaya Monde from the University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension write in a paper published in the journal Sustainability that this is of concern as rural smallholder farmers are part of the country’s agricultural system. 

The South African National Climate Change Response Policy (NCCRP) was instituted in October 2011. Amongst the policy’s priorities is building capacity and resilience in the country’s agricultural sector.

The plan is to use the public agricultural extension system (a system promoting both production and the conservation of resources) as the centre of a strategy to sensitize, educate and build capacity.

In their research, the authors, however, found that the majority of smallholder farmers in the Eastern Cape’s Amathole District Municipality, 89% of those surveyed, did not know about this policy. 

“Findings revealed that there was an extremely low awareness of the policy and a dearth of sensitization campaigns and capacity-building training by extension officers in the study area,” the paper states.

"This is to the detriment of farmers, the paper continued, as the practical and policy implications outlined could aid an increase in the resilience of farmers, with support from extension advisers and other relevant stakeholders.

“Public sensitization and education to strengthen the climate change resilient capacities of its citizens is a major priority for South Africa’s NCCRP. It is, therefore, expected that there should be some form of awareness of the NCCRP to smallholder farmers particularly, about the government’s efforts to enhance their adaptation capacities. 

Explaining why they chose the Amathole District Municipality to conduct ]their research the authors of the paper said: “The Amatole District Municipality’s Integrated Development Plan identified major hydrometeorological risks for the region as droughts, floods (river, urban, and dam failure), grassland fires, and severe storms (wind, hail, snow, lightning, fog). Based on the report, the district experienced severe drought in 2008, which lasted until 2010 and there is a greater chance of recurrent periods of droughts in the near future as some parts of the District are already faced with regular periods of below-normal rainfall conditions.”

The paper highlights that the agriculture sector is bound to be hard hit by climate change. This sector creates jobs and foreign exchange earnings for the country but its contribution is already in decline and climate change will cause a further decline. 

In South Africa, the researchers point out, the agricultural system has two distinct components: the commercial agricultural farming sector and the smallholder division.

“Smallholder farmers are largely faced with challenges in securing land, limited access to capital, insufficient infrastructure, illiteracy and a lack of skills, high dependence on natural resources, low awareness and adaptive capacities. The growing trepidation for the smallholder sector thus stems from the understanding that they are already constrained and have become greatly susceptible to climate change-led environmental degradation.

They pointed out that while the commercial agricultural sector also faces climate change challenges, they are advocating for greater emphasis on the smallholder population because it is already a vulnerable group and climate change is increasing their vulnerability.

“For this reason, the response capacity of the South African national government is critical, especially as regards implementing adaptation interventions to curb climate change immediate threats while developing

short-medium-long term control measures,” The paper continues.

To do the survey researchers visited 301 smallholder farming households near Idutywa, Willovale and Elliotdale. Farmers were divided into three groups, according to what their farms produce, crop, livestock and poultry. Most (61.12%) had below secondary education and 91.03% had farming 30 years or less experience in farming. 

Most of the farmers who took part in the survey were older than 50. Farmers reported that they make a living by selling produce (79%) and of these 86% made less than R10 000 from their annual sales. Just over one-third of farmers (35.55% ) indicated that they had another source of income that could help them cope with climate change.

Answers provided by the farmers showed that 89% did not know about the policy and over 90% claimed there had been no campaigns, workshops, or programs organized in their region to inform them of this. They also received no training. 

Around 10% of farmers indicated that they had been sensitized about the policy by government sources, other information sources such as radio, television, and newspapers, or their cooperative associations. Only 0.66% said they have received training on using modern climate change adaptation technology and of these, only 1% implemented what they had learned on their farms.

In contrast though, close to 85% of respondents said there was an urgency for extension services on climate change issues.

“Public sensitization and education to strengthen the climate change resilient capacities of its citizens is a major priority for South Africa’s NCCRP,” the paper continues. “[I]t is therefore, expected that there should be some form of awareness of the NCCRP to smallholder farmers particularly, about the government’s efforts to enhance their adaptation capacities. However, this study shows that there is a profound knowledge gap among the farmers in the study area about the instituted response policy. This is of serious concern, as rural smallholder farmers are also an integral part of the country’s agricultural system. As such, they must be aware of policies being initiated to aid their production practices.” 

The researchers advocated for urgent action, emphasising serious concerns that climate change will bring about more disasters and affect major economic sectors including agriculture.

“Climate change threatens agriculture with massive implications, especially for resource-poor smallholder farmers. This is why the NCCRP is extremely important in addressing the climate change challenges experienced in South Africa, particularly in the agricultural sector,” the paper continues.

“The study recommends immediate government intervention in the form of appropriate, functional extension services, particularly for carrying out climate change coping and adaptation education, and support. Training for smallholder farmers in the region should be facilitated to increase their capacity. Capacity-building and training in appropriate coping and adaptation practices should be carried out through an increased mobilization of smallholder farmers in the study area. There is also a clear need to empower local authorities in the area of financing and in translating government policy into pragmatic guidelines for appropriate farming practices,” the paper concluded.