The agricultural sector should mitigate and adapt to climate change

Paul Makube, Senior Agricultural Economist at FNB Agri-Business

Global and national food security remains extremely threatened. Climate change has always been the main threat driver, however, Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has greatly increased concerns about the war’s impact on soaring food prices and input costs .

Paul Makube, agricultural economist at FNB, says they recognize agriculture’s historical and current contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that interfere with the climate system and the negative consequences of this.

“The cumulative effect of GHG emissions over decades has resulted in climate change characterized by extreme and prolonged droughts, intermittent rainfall and flooding, and sea level rise.”

This interferes with normal production operations and planning, causing volatility in farmgate prices and threatening global and national food security, he adds.

Hot, hotter, hotter

According to the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, it is “virtually certain” that extreme temperatures (including heat waves) have become more frequent and intense in most regions. terrestrial regions since the 1950s.

The report indicates that cold extremes (including cold spells) have become less frequent and less severe. These extreme temperatures observed over the past decade would have been extremely unlikely to have occurred without human influence on the climate system.

“Marine heat waves have approximately doubled in frequency since the 1980s, and human influence has most likely contributed to most of them since at least 2006,” the report said.

Makube says they have observed periodic droughts and a gradual change in weather patterns that have impacted both livestock and crop production.

“Irregular rainfall and delays in the onset of seasons reduce normal optimal planting windows for crops in various regions. As a result, yields are negatively impacted in crops such as maize as they do not receive enough units heat when planted beyond the planting window, and they are also potentially exposed to potential frost which can cause severe damage.

Rising ambient temperatures in normally warm areas have also forced farmers to adopt intensive livestock systems at enormous cost. “It also comes with a high energy demand for cooling high-tech green housing, making these operations vulnerable to the power outages that have become part of the South African landscape.”

Rapidly changing conditions

According to Makube, long-term forecasts indicate that climate change in South Africa will lead to an average increase in temperatures of 2.5 to 3 degrees Celsius by 2050. Hot regions are expected to expand and hot regions become hot.

Precipitation is generally expected to decrease with more extremes such as floods and hailstorms. This will force farmers to adapt or move production to more suitable areas.

“Pests and diseases will also react to changing conditions and move to areas where they were previously unknown, compounding the challenges for farmers,” Makube warns.

Parts of the Northern, Eastern and Western Cape have recently been battling a devastating outbreak of locust swarms which have damaged and consumed thousands of hectares of pasture. Experts have contributed to massive outbreaks in recent years to “unusual climatic conditions”.

Mitigation

Makube says it is imperative for the agricultural sector to implement “precision and conservation agriculture” in its production systems to mitigate its impact on climate change. This involves the deployment of precision tools in the application of fertilizers and the use of environmentally friendly types, cover cropping, crop cycling and no-till farming.

Furthermore, it requires the use of improved technologies such as netting in orchards, not only to reduce evapotranspiration (transfer from soil to atmosphere through evaporation from soil and other surfaces and through transpiration from plants) but also to improve product quality.

Producers could improve herd management through effective selection and genetics that could guarantee reduced emissions to preserve the environment. Livestock health can be improved through the development of new vaccines and environmentally safe pest control mechanisms.

“If we ignore the signs, global temperatures will continue to rise and disrupt weather patterns. This means crop failures, soaring commodity prices and famine across the world,” Makube warns.

It is essential to continue research on regenerative agriculture, which aims to increase biodiversity, reduce water consumption, recycle agricultural waste, sequester GHG emissions and improve soil health and the climate resilience of crops.

“At FNB, we will increase financing for the green economy and support and encourage the use of technology and climate-smart agriculture,” says Makube.

Lana T. Arthur