How adaptable are smallholder communities to the effects of climate change?

by Amy Giliam

Climate change is identified as one of the major trends influencing change in the 21st century. In South Africa, climate change is and will continue to contribute to the severity and frequency of drought, flood events, and changes in temperatures and rainfall patterns. Smallholder farmers are viewed as particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change due to their dependence on agriculture for their livelihoods, their remote locations, and their limited access to support and resources. Strengthening smallholder farmers’ adaptability to climate change is necessary as they play a fundamental role in ensuring global, regional, and household food security, especially for the most vulnerable groups in society. Agroecology is viewed as an approach most suited to smallholder farmers’ needs and improving their adaptability to the effects of climate change.

A case study was used to understand IMG_1174 the impact of agroecology training on the adaptability of smallholder communities to the effects of climate change in Limpopo province in South Africa. The case study centred on the first phase of the Leadership Skills and Agroecology training programme, which was piloted by the Southern Africa Food Lab and 17 Shaft between May and August 2016. Seven individuals graduated from the programme and returned to their communities to begin sharing the skills and knowledge they had gained from the training with smallholder farmers.

Findings suggest smallholder farmers have transitioned from using coping strategies pre-agroecology training to adaptive strategies post-agroecology training. Prior to the agroecology training at 17 Shaft, trainers and smallholder farmers spoke about how they had very few strategies in place when the rivers ran dry during the drought. Agroecological practices such as composting and mulching to improve the water holding capacity of their soil were not used. Trainers and farmers expressed that they lacked the skills and knowledge to make compost heaps or did not know about mulching before the agroecology training. Since the training, farmers and trainers have been able to adopt and implement agroecological practices such as water conservation, composting and mulching. Farmers in Nkomo village, who have been working with two graduates from the training, also expressed how in-community agroecology training has enabled learning, collaboration and trust to develop amongst farmers in the community. The agroecology training, which developed in-community trainers, has been central to the change in strategies amongst smallholders. Ultimately, the findings highlight the importance of social networks and in-community training for smallholder farmers’ adoption of agroecology and as a source of support for improving their adaptability to the effects of climate change.

Giliam is a masters student at the Sustainability Institute working with the Southern Africa Food Lab on the 17 Shaft innovation.