Agricultural producer organisation Agri South Africa (Agri SA) is advising its members to practise conservation agriculture to mitigate the increasing threats associated with climate change and to ensure food security, says Agri SA director of natural resources Nic Opperman.
Speaking to Engineering News, he explains that the group is advocating the use of sustain- able and innovative agricultural practises to protect the industry against unpredictable future rainfall and erratic weather patterns.
He says that, given trends of declining rainfall and increasing average temperatures, both field crop production and horticulture are acutely vulnerable.
Conservation agriculture, as defined in a policy brief by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, seeks to increase agricultural productivity in an environmen- tally and socially sustainable way by strengthening farmers’ resilience to climate change through the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions and the increase of carbon storage on farmland.
Opperman explains that practices such as intercropping, using maximum soil cover, the protection of biomass and efficient irrigation are being increasingly endorsed as methods that can ensure continued productivity and improve agricultural sustainability.
The carbon sequestration potential of farmland can also be improved through the re-establishment of indigenous flora, which will reduce global agricultural emissions, currently standing at 13.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
Further, he emphasises that adjusting to the changing climate, such as by making amendments to planting schedules, will enable farmers to leverage weather patterns.
“Techniques that involve minimum soil disturbance and that prevent undue water loss constitute what we call climate-smart agriculture, which is a mindset that we are encouraging our members to adopt,” he says.
Climatologist and environmental consultant Simon Gear believes that the most profound implication of climate change on agriculture in Southern Africa is the deterioration of local water resources, which will impact on food production.
He says increasing temperatures and variable rainfall patterns will result in water stress, which produces corresponding decreases in agricultural productivity and threats to long-term food security.
Opperman points out that while some farmers are sceptical about transforming established farming methods, owing to the uncertainty surrounding financial viability, most accept the need for rehabilitated practices, and some are even using their own initiatives to investigate alternatives.
He asserts that, to fully transform the local agricultural industry, increased support from government and, possibly, development banks, in the form of incentives, are needed.
“While most local farmers are willing to evolve to sustainable agriculture, they require incentives from government to do so. This may be in the form of financial support, or increased research, development and education in agri- cultural sustainability,” notes Opperman.
In his address to the National Climate Change Conference for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in August, Agri SA president Johannes Möller said there was a need to establish a voluntary carbon credit system that would reward farmers for their contri- bution to climate change mitigation.
“An ambitious financing framework is required to provide positive incentives for the implementation of climate-friendly conservation agriculture practices, which should include the establishment of innovative financial mechanisms for the transfer of technologies to benefit farmers,” he said.
Möller also underlined the need for funding mechanisms for vulnerable farmers to assist them with climate change adaptation.