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Smallholder farmers’ perceptions and adaptation to climate change interventions and support systems in Limpopo province, South Africa.

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Climate change is one of the most critical long-term global challenges, especially for Africa and even more so Southern Africa. Agriculture is more than an economic cornerstone of most rural households in sub-Saharan Africa and climate change variations pose a threat to the agricultural sector and food security of these households. Climate variations such as increased hot seasons have been reported to lead to loss in food production through crop failure, human disease outbreak and livestock deaths. Several initiatives to develop climate change interventions and support systems are reported, however, it is not known if they are reaching and benefitting the smallholder farmers who are vulnerable to climate change. The study investigated smallholder farmers’ perceptions and adaptation to climate change interventions and support systems in Mopani and Vhembe districts, in Limpopo province, South Africa. Hundred and fifty questionnaires were administered to smallholder farmers who were subsistence farmers who produced for household consumption and only seldom sold; those who were farming for both household consumption and selling the surplus; and those who were mainly selling referred to as ‘food producers’ because their primary goal was to produce for the market. Eight focus group discussions were conducted to collect in-depth information on smallholder farmers’ perceptions towards climate change support systems, interventions and experiences towards climate change. Transect walks were done with a small group of farmers from four local municipalities to observe if the farming production systems and practices of the farmers were adapting to climate change and to probe on what influenced their decisions. The study findings revealed that crop production was regarded as a way of life for smallholder farmers in Limpopo province, especially amongst women farmers (72%), as it contributed to household food security and 73,3% farmers also sold surplus to generate livelihoods. The farmers perceived prolonged droughts (56.4%) as the main shock stressing their production whilst other farmers were of the opinion that very hot seasons were the significant shock (56%). The focus group discussions revealed that the smallholder farmers had different perceptions of climate change and the majority of smallholder farmers perceived climate change to be caused by supernatural forces. Only a minority adapted to climate change, by changing planting dates and intercropping. However 42% did not adapt due to water shortages and 67.3% were not aware of climate change interventions and were not receiving any climate change support. Consequently, almost all the farmers (78%) relied more on their indigenous knowledge for resilience to climate change. However, female smallholder farmers seemed to be more vulnerable to climate change impacts due to their age, health status and high level of illiteracy as compared to their counterparts male farmers, hence they were hit hard by the climatic variability and experienced measurable crop losses (68.7%). In response to the prevailing climatic condition different gender adapted different strategies, 41% of female farmers adapted to changing planting dates, while male farmers employed crop variety and diversification (35%) and mixed cropping (15%) better than female farmers. Therefore, this means there is a need to bring awareness of the implications of climate change to the farmers. There is a need to consider indigenous knowledge system-based climate change support and interventions to empower farmers with capacity to withstand climate change challenges. To encourage farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture technologies, which can be achieved through creating and enabling policy environment for adaptation, the government also need to invest in smallholder farmers skill audits programme, in the long run, so that these farmers graduate from just being subsistence farmers and food producers to commercial farmers.


Master of Science in Agriculture. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2016.


Climate change., Smallholder farmers., Food security., Interventions., Adaptation.