• Login
  • Search Icon

Manage climate change risks

August 2019

Marius Greyling, Pula Imvula contributor. Send an email to mariusg@mcgacc.co.za

Climate change? Is it really happening? Yes, it is really happening and it will have a major effect on every one of us, even our farmers.

Unfortunately, this message emphasises that the managerial skills of our farmers will be put to test even more to survive as a farmer. And, this is in combination with other aspects of our farming businesses that are also changing, such as marketing, consumer requirements and preferences. Some of which we have discussed in other articles. The message is quite clear – to be a farmer is very challenging.

The aim with this article is not to discuss the technicalities of climate change but to place the emphasis on the management of climate change. Let’s just emphasise that the general consensus is that climate change is taking place. What is changing? All forecasts indicate that South Africa will become hotter and the average temperature is on the increase. Heatwaves will be occurring more frequently, and this will result in more veld fires occurring more frequently. Our country will become even drier and we will experience more droughts, storms, hail, flooding and so forth. The interesting thing is that we have always experienced this in South Africa – the change that will be experienced is that these events will occur more and more and be more severe of nature.

South Africa is already a dry country and the managing of water resources will become more challenging and we will have to improve and conserve our soils (land) to allow for improved water infiltration.

Let’s be practical and consider some possible actions to be taken on our farms to soften the severity of climatic changes. Farms differ and regions within South Africa differ. We trust the ideas will act as a stimulus to consider and to gather more information to manage the climatic change – that is the challenge.

First, a few general steps to consider. One of the major actions to undertake is to combat dongas in order to control water run-off. A donga is the result of uncontrolled run-off water and once formed, the run-off becomes worse. Use stones, tyres, even stumps of trees, or mesh wire holders filled with stones to reduce the run-off of water. Do not let a road become a donga – control the water run-off by providing culverts to direct the water into the veld. 

Try to cover small dams such as a dam at a windmill to reduce evaporation. Try to harvest rain water as much as possible by collecting water from the roofs of buildings in Jo-Jo tanks. Water is a diminishing resource. Make the most of every drop. 

See that you have proper and enough fire fighting equipment and adhere to all fire fighting rules and regulations. Burned veld has very little plant growth until it has recovered to control run-off water.

As far as crop production in general is concerned, plan and establish or re-establish your lands/orchards according to the contours of your farm. And establish proper water ways. This will allow you to control water run-off. Remember, according to all predictions rain storms will become more regularly and more severe in South Africa, resulting in more flooding. Thus, the control of run-off water will need more and more attention. Improve water infiltration on your lands by applying conservation farming methods such as minimum tillage practices and cover crops. Apart from improving soil health these methods also improve the water infiltration of the soil and its water holding capacity. Select the best drought resistant crops available to plant.

Should you farm with some form of livestock extensively you must farm with the best adaptable breed to your farm and area. Select smaller and the best adapted animals in your herd. Furthermore, you must farm according to the carrying capacity of your farm and area. Over-grazing is one of the main reasons for dongas to form. The better the plant coverage of the veld, the less the water run-off will be. Continuous overgrazing reduces the plant coverage over time. A proper grazing system must also be applied allowing for proper rest periods of the veld. 

As the environment becomes warmer it will be advisable to see to it that your animals have proper shade, even if you have to erect shading. As far as drought is concerned, it has always been advisable to build up a fodder bank to feed your basic herd for at least a year. The fodder bank can consist of silage and/or hay or planted food such as prickly pears or salt bush. It will be a great advantage to have enough fodder available to feed your herd in times of shortages.

In conclusion, climate change and the accompanying catastrophes are seen as the greatest risk facing farmers in the future. As a farmer you should face up to the challenge and manage these risks properly to survive. 

Publication: August 2019

Section: Pula/Imvula