Farmers' perceptions of climate change and adaptation strategies in South Africa's Western Cape

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Climate change poses a serious threat to South Africa's agricultural sector. Implementing adaptation strategies is thus crucial to secure future agricultural production and rural livelihoods. To support effective adaptation, it is necessary to understand how farmers, as primary land-use decision-makers, perceive and respond to climate change. We conducted semi-structured interviews to examine climate change adaptation behaviour by commercial grain and wine grape farmers in a water-scarce, recently drought-stricken agricultural region of South Africa's Western Cape. Specifically, we investigated (1) how farmers perceive climate change, (2) which factors influence their adaptive behaviour and (3) which adaptation strategies they apply in their farming practices, and whether these are medium to long-term or short-term coping strategies. Through the resulting discourses, we found that most farmers have observed long-term regional changes in climate, such as changes in rainfall patterns, increasing temperatures and extreme climatic events. Farmers' adaptive behaviour is influenced by previous experience of climatic stresses and internal factors, including risk perception, perceived adaptive capacity and cognitive biases. Institutional and biophysical constraints including perceived lack of government support and soil composition are external barriers to adaptation. Most farmers have implemented adaptive strategies on their farms, including alterations to soil and crop management, such as changes of harvest and planting time, crop rotations and water conservation techniques. However, farmers have planned fewer adaptive strategies to future impacts of climate change than current implemented strategies. Current strategies are mostly technological and address direct impacts of climate stressors, although climate change impacts go beyond the farm scale into society. These findings may have important implications for future policy making and climate change adaptation in this region, given the place-specific institutional and biophysical barriers identified by farmers, and the strategic importance of the Western Cape in South African agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Volume81
Pages (from-to)203-219
Number of pages17
ISSN0743-0167
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01.2021

    Research areas

  • Sustainability Science - adaptive behaviour, Cape Floristic Region, Drought, Risk perception, South africa