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The smarts of climate change agriculture

By Paul Harman Time of article published Dec 12, 2016

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US President-elect Donald Trump has made no bones about his dismissive stance towards climate change - an approach our farmers can ill afford to emulate. It just makes sense for them to adopt sustainable farming practices - for the environment, as well as their bottom line.

But, for our farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices, we need robust support structures in place, especially from the government.

The South African government and industry associations have indeed provided support to farmers to help them farm sustainably - starting in the Western Cape, and hoping to branch out to the rest of the country.

This support comes in the form of initiatives such as SmartAgri, the Greenagri portal, GreenCape’s sector desk, FruitLook and other interventions focused on community-based adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management.

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture and the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning launched SmartAgri in 2014.

This was done with the objective of providing a practical, relevant climate change response plan that is tailored to the agricultural sector of the Western Cape.

And this is particularly useful, given that in the Western Cape climate change projections suggest a warming of 1.5°C to 3°C by around 2050. This translates into more hot days and increased evaporation in the future.

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GreenAgri is a web-based information portal focused on driving the green economy. Funded by the Western Cape government, but available and targeted at the whole of South Africa, it hosts SmartAgri publications, along with a great deal more information on policies, and tips and tools which are freely available.

Because farmers now have to produce more with less water, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture has developed FruitLook. This state-of-the-art online tool equips fruit and grape farmers in the Western Cape to improve their water use efficiency, using satellite technology. This service is currently free for farmers who live in the region covered by the satellite.

Fruitlook provides semi-real time information on crop growth, evapo-transpiration deficits, and crop nitrogen status for irrigation blocks in orchards and vineyards. With FruitLook, farmers can grasp the full extent of their water use and crop management decisions.

As of the end of June 2015, FruitLook had more than 200 active users monitoring more than 160 000 hectares of fruit every week during the fruit-growing season. Estimates of financial benefits range between R4 000 and R25 000 per hectare.

Other interventions include renewable energy sources - wind, solar and hydropower and biomass - which have a replenishing nature, and can lower the carbon intensity of agricultural products.

Then there’s the Confronting Climate Change project, a strategic industry initiative that aims to support the South African agricultural sector in effectively responding to the challenges and opportunities relating to climate change.

Our farmers, who essentially feed the nation, are largely at the mercy of the elements. They can, therefore, ill afford to aggravate the effects of those elements through agricultural practices that perpetuate climate change.

We hope to see more farmers grab the lifeline of support, as they reap the benefits of sustainable farming.

Paul Harman is industry affairs manager: Citrus Growers’ Association www.cga.co.za.

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