THE previous La Niña years were a boon for South African farmers, with above-average rains supporting agriculture and leading to higher yields in field crops, fruits, vegetables, and even improved grazing pastures for livestock.
Now, the anticipated shift to El Niño conditions presents a new set of challenges for farmers who are already facing multiple other factors that are impacting their activities.
These challenges include load shedding, changing consumer patterns and declining consumer confidence due to lower levels of disposable income and relatively elevated farming input costs.
An expert has thus urged South African grain and livestock farmers to adapt in the face of changing weather patterns.
The advice by Paul Makube, Senior Agricultural Economist, at First National Bank (FNB), comes as in the coming months and years, changing global weather patterns will likely have significant consequences for local farmers, especially those involved in livestock and grain production.
“Adaptation by farmers is crucial in the face of the coming hot and dry conditions caused by El Niño,” Makube emphasized.
“……..and for livestock farmers this means taking steps now to ensure an appropriate balance between feed availability and stock numbers.”
Makube highlights that, in situations where there is an imbalance in these factors, the common response of liquidating some stock should be done cautiously.
He is nonetheless optimistic about the short-term fortunes of local crop farmers, pointing out that the sector is likely to end the current harvesting season on a positive note, with projections of a good harvest of around 19 million tons.
The extensive rains have also served to replenish groundwater reserves and soil moisture levels, which puts farmers on a positive footing going into the next planting season.
However, these factors will not be enough to support crop farmers through an extended, or extreme El Niño period.
Thus, farmers need to urgently invest in drought-resistant crop varieties, improve water conservation techniques, and adopt climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies like precision agriculture techniques.
Makube pointed out that the imperative for farmers to quickly adapt to the changing climate patterns is not only to protect their own operations, but also to help address rising concerns about food affordability in South Africa.
“As weather patterns change, and farmers face challenges and rising production costs, the affordability of food becomes a significant concern for vulnerable populations with lower levels of disposable income,” Makube explained.
He is confident about the ability of farmers to overcome challenges through resilience, capacity and innovative thinking.
“By taking proactive measures to address the challenges posed by changing weather patterns, farmers can, and will, mitigate the impacts and build a more resilient and sustainable agriculture sector for the future,” Makube concluded.
– CAJ News