The Western Cape government’s SmartAgri project recently reached a milestone with the completion of the Climate Change framework for the Western Cape agricultural sector.

 

The province has noticed an increasing demand for support to farmers and agri-business to become more climate resilient. The current drought emphasises the sector’s vulnerability to climatic extremes, and climate change will increasingly create conditions that are detrimental to farmers.

Although farmers have always reacted to climatic variability, in future it will be necessary to pay more attention to innovative solutions to confront long term changes. The sector will have to collaborate to implement tangible and co-ordinated actions so as to prevent climate change from destabilising agriculture and food security and undermining economic and rural development.

In a first joint effort the Western Cape Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs and Development Planning launched the SmartAgri project (SmartAgriculture for Climate Resilience) in August 2014. Under the leadership of the University of Cape Town’s African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) a consortium developed a provincial framework for reaction to climate change for the Western Cape agricultural sector. They are currently engaged in developing the accompanying implementation plan. The objective of the plan is to identify and prioritise practical and relevant reactions specifically for the Western Cape agricultural sector.

Weather data show warming has already taken place (generally 1.0C over the last 50 years), especially in mid- to late summer. The data show a decline in the number of rain days across the province and especially in autumn, but with some increasing trends in the western regions in spring. This may indicate a progressively later start and end to the seasons. So far there have been no noticeable trends in total precipitation during the winter season or annually across the province.

Climate modelling studies indicate that the average annual temperatures will increase further by between 1.5C and 3C by mid-century, compared to the annual temperatures experienced from 1976 – 2005. The biggest increases will probably be experienced in the interior, and the lowest along the coast. Consequently we can expect higher minimum and maximum temperatures, while the number of cold days and cold nights will decrease and the number of very hot days and nights will increase. For fruit cultivation it is important to note that cold units will decrease significantly, with a bigger impact in the warmer regions. Warmer conditions also result in fruit quality issues.

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Floods can cause severe damage to vineyards.

 

Vineyards will require more water in a future warmer climate.

 

The studies show with a high level of certainty (in other words almost all models agree in this regard) that the western parts of the province will experience a decrease in winter rainfall by mid-century and thereafter. In the short term, however, the influence of mountains and oceans may result in increased rainfall along the wind aspect of the mountains, or cause precipitation to move to spring and summer. Higher levels of evaporation and plant water usage will place more pressure on water resources.

To react to climate related risks requires decision-making in a changing and uncertain world. The Western Cape agricultural sector adapts to the changes by reacting to the demands of the current climate variability and extremes in terms of socio-economic pressure. If producers and their value chain partners have access to a wider range of suitable options, they will be better equipped to innovate and adapt their practices. This may include improved water and soil management, identification of modified harvest times with accompanying cultivar and marketing implications, and planning for droughts and other climatic disasters.

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture undertakes to help optimise the sustainable use of water and soil resources and further increase climate smart agricultural production. Various initiatives have been implemented for many years, such as for example the FruitLook programme and the conservation agriculture focus. Such programmes and others should be upscaled to a larger group of beneficiaries, and integrated into a sector-wide strategy.

Several information booklets aimed at farmers, including one for wine farmers, will soon be available.

– For more information about the SmartAgri project and the Climate Change framework, email smartagriwesterncape@gmail.com or visit the Western Cape’s new GreenAgri information portal at http://www.greenagri.org.za.

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