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Western Cape agriculture under threat

Agriculture and food security in the Western Cape are under threat due to increased heat, water stress on crops and livestock and droughts resulting from climate change.

Delivering his Budget Speech in the Western Cape legislature on Wednesday, Agriculture MEC Alan Winde said the Western Cape government in partnership with the private sector are arming themselves against the adverse effects of climate change through its long-term climate change response strategy known as SmartAgri.

SmartAgri sets out detailed scenarios and response proposals to combat the impact of extreme weather events on the province’s agriculture sector.

“Part of the SmartAgri approach to mitigate the danger posed by climate change is conservation agriculture. This method of farming includes minimum tillage, year-round soil cover and crop rotation to maintain the soil’s natural structure and increase the level of nutrients able to be absorbed. We’ve taken this message to farmers across the province in the past two years. And what we’re seeing is an unprecedented shift to this more sustainable form of farming,” he told the house.

With the world’s population expected to grow rapidly, the MEC stressed that securing food supply and protecting the environment is high on the international agenda with the United Nations (UN) predicting that agricultural production must increase by 60% to meet the demand of the nine billion people who are expected to live on earth by 2050.

MEC Winde said the Western Cape is poised to play a vital role in meeting this challenge.

“In the province, the Gross Value Add (GVA) of agriculture, an indicator of all the goods and services produced by the sector, amounts to R18.6 billion, with export revenue generating R40 billion per annum,” the MEC said.

According to the MEC in the past two years, drought and high temperatures, as well as floods and hail, have led to significant losses in agriculture.

These losses included:

  • The loss of 200 000 tonnes of wheat due to insufficient rain during the 2015 winter;
  • A 15% decrease in fruit production in 2015/16 worth an estimated loss of R750 million;
  • The loss of 230 hectares of potatoes, which could not be planted due to the lack of water;
  • In livestock, in excess of 30 000 animals have been sold as farmers battle to feed their core herds;
  • A decline of 5% in the wine grapes harvested during 2016 due to high temperatures and lack of irrigation water. In rand terms, this loss amounted to an estimated R500 million.

    As a further result of the water restrictions, our agricultural economists are projecting a R112 million decrease in GVA, and a possible drop of 1 728 in the number of available seasonal work opportunities.

“I have witnessed first-hand the very real effects of this crisis. Our emerging farmers especially, are struggling to survive through this time of higher input costs,” the MEC said.

He added that they have allocated R48 million for drought relief support with the funds being used for a monthly livelihood support package to emerging grain farmers and their staff, and for animal fodder. In the year ahead, R47 million will be set aside for drought relief.

“Projections show that in the years to come, the climate change crisis will likely deepen. Winter rainfall across most of the Western Cape will decline, but in other areas, heavier rainfall and floods will rise. Heat waves will become more common. Droughts will increase in frequency. Strong winds and unseasonal cold snaps are among the risks we face in the not-too-distant future,” he added.

While the province’s land resources amount to just 12.4% of South Africa’s total available agricultural land, MEC Winde said the Western Cape produces between 50 and 60% of our country’s agricultural exports,” he added.

He said the establishment of a dedicated Veterinary Export Certification Office which provides around-the-clock assistance to exporters requiring permits to ship their goods across the borders, has seen over 15 000 permits being processed in 2016, resulting in the shipment of R1.8 billion worth of goods from the region.



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