Climate change adaptation and agriculture in South Africa: a policy assessment

Climate change adaptation and agriculture in South Africa: a policy assessment

Agriculture is one of the two sectors (along with mining) at the core of economic development. Underpinning food systems, agricultural activities constitute an indispensable pillar of sustainable development. This is especially true in South Africa, where the economic, social and environmental opportunities of sustainable agriculture are yet to be fully exploited. Over the last two decades, agriculture has been subject to drastic economic and social evolutions in the country. On top of that, climate change is progressively, but undeniably, changing the environmental, social and economic conditions affecting agriculture.

Strategic public intervention is instrumental in ensuring the long-term sustainability of South Africa’s agricultural sector. Market forces do not factor in social and environmental externalities of economic activities. In addition, the type, scale and duration of investments required to facilitate climate change adaptation in the agricultural sector and achieve common goals (such as food security), require the direct involvement of government. The multitude of stakeholders involved in the pursuit of sustainability also generates coordination failures, calling for government steering and oversight.

This policy brief speaks looks at the issues at stake and considers the extent to which South African policies and strategic plans adequately address climate change adaptation in the agricultural sector.

Key findings:

  • notable absence of a national political agenda around climate change adapation
  • no guidelines for local government to translate the national climate change action plan into local plans
  • policies fail to recognise that changes in the availability of water supplies may limit the potential for irrigation expansion in some areas
  • the South African government has not indicated potential sources of financing for adaptation measures in the agricultural sector
  • currently no financial or regulatory incentives for local governments to include mitigation and adaptation projects within planning
  • policies shy away from the nexus of research and development translating into market-ready technologies and products
  • little attention given to the need to capacitate extension services and to strengthen weather and climate forecasting and risk management tools
  • no understanding of the linkages between climate change, trade and industrial development
  • lack of an integrated, strategic framework for spatial planning and land use management
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