The effect of the recent heavy rainfall on soil and farmers

“Without agriculture, man cannot live and without water, man cannot have agriculture” (Ramachandran, 2010).”

Crop production in agriculture uses about 1.5 billion hectares (ha) (11%) of the earth’s 13,2 billion hectares (ha). Irrigating land for crop growth and high yields uses approximately 70% of fresh water on the planet. However, many regions in Southern Africa have a limited supply of freshwater and often rely on rain to increase soil moisture and promote high yields.This type of farming is referred to as dryland agriculture, which is suitable for crops such as groundnuts, cotton and sorghum, grown. Recently, both irrigated and non-irrigated agricultural practices have been influenced by the heavy amount of rainfall, which is South Africa’s heaviest on record according to an article by Claudine Senekal from Bloomberg news. Southern Africa’s 2021/2022 summer season will see an end at the end of March this year, and so far talks of the effects of this season’s rainfall were both exciting and boarded on the state of national disaster, stemming from the floods that occurred across the country.

© Stephan Krüger

Almost all summer, rainfall regions have experienced prolonged rain since October 2021, and a Business Insider report from early October predicted a rainy summer through February 2022 for most of South Africa. In part, this was due to a weak La Nina, part of a broader El Nino–Southern Oscillation climate pattern influencing seasonal weather patterns. As a result of this forecast, South Africa experienced above-normal rains and thundershowers this summer.

© Stephan Krüger

Meanwhile, up to the middle of January 2022, there was very little rain reported in South Africa’s neighbouring country Namibia. Most of Namibia was spared a lot of the tropical moisture that was redirected over to Botswana, then towards South Africa. As a consequence of this redirection, floods occurred randomly in areas across South Africa.

Data from the South African Weather Service shows that rain fell across much of North West province and the western Free State. The province of Limpopo received nearly four times as much rain in December as it normally does, as one district received 390 millimetres (15.4″) of rain compared with its 30-year average, while other districts saw more than double their normal rainfall. East London also endured heavy rainfall, as well as Augrabies in the Northern Cape, and some flooding also occurred in several parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

Picture: SA Weather Services predictions for the average rainfall of early January 2022. (Weather SA Media release; 28 January 2022)

Farmers were mostly glad for the rain as in the past few years, there were concerns that a lack of rain would endanger water supplies across the country, including the Vaal Dam, which supplies water to Johannesburg. Farmers and policymakers have been affected by extreme weather and unpredictable weather. Flooding and crop damage have occurred in some of South Africa’s most important agricultural provinces due to unprecedented rain, adding to concerns about climate change making weather unpredictable.

The high amount of rainfall not only damages crops due to the anaerobic conditions caused by waterlogging. Erosion of the topsoil occurs due to the flooding that occurs, and there’s also an increase in the number of pathogens and pest infestations on crop commodities that result in a decrease in crop yield. Despite the heavy rain, the drier regions of South Africa benefited due to improved germination and grasses emerging as well as improved pasture conditions.

© Stephan Krüger

Agricultural producers cannot plan for such extreme weather events, but management plans are applied which in some cases reduce the severity of the damages caused and inconveniences encountered on the whole farming value chain. But from what we have experienced this past summer, we can at least conclude that small adjustments to everyday farming practices are being made to adapt to climate change, including managing irrigation timings, planting cover crops to prevent topsoil erosion, and creating drainage channels to redirect water flow.

The SONA 2022 Recap

5 min read

The State of the Nation Address for 2022 has highlighted a lot of issues that needed to be addressed by the president, and so far, president Cyril Ramaphosa diligently addressed the crises created by the global pandemic, the aftermath, as well as a way forward.

The president went on to fully acknowledge the contributions and the growth of the Agricultural sector by pointing out its positive economic impact since the pandemic.

Picture: Jacques Nelles

Here are some highlights that were taken away from the SONA regarding agriculture:

  1. The president fully described and addressed the National State of Disaster. He is quoted as saying “The National State of Disaster, which has been set up since March 2020, will before long be finished as the public authority moves into the following period of its administration of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is our aim to end the public condition of catastrophe when we have settled different measures under the National Health Act and other regulation to contain the pandemic.”
  2. During this year’s SONA, which was held at the Cape Town City Hall on the 10th of February 2022, the agriculture sector was acknowledged for the remarkable work despite the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. President Ramaphosa emphasized the importance of land reform and promised to fast-track the implementation by creating a Land and Agrarian Reform Agency. He went on to say , “To date, government has redistributed over five million hectares of land, totaling around 5 500 farms, to more than 300 000 beneficiaries. This is in addition to the land restitution process, which has benefitted over two million land claimants and resulted in the transfer of around 2,7 million hectares.”
  4. The president encouraged South Africans to support local businesses by buying local goods and services. His appeal to South Africans was focused on supporting their local sugar industry, with a special mention of a blueprint for the Sugar Cane Value Chain Master Plan to 2030, which was signed during the lockdown. The purpose is to allow large sugar users to purchase at least 80% of their sugar needs from local growers.
  5. Last year, president Rampahosa reported an increase in local sugar production and a decline in imported sugar as a result of the implementation of the plan. He added: “This meant stability to an industry that employs around 85 000 people.” Besides providing market access to smallholders and emerging farmers, the government will also develop skills across the entire value chain of agriculture. A major emphasis will be placed on expanding the number of commercial black farmers.
  6. As a result of being the second largest exporter of citrus in the world, with about 65%, or 2.25m tons, of the crop of lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit and soft citrus destined for international markets, president Cyril Ramaphosa continued to praise the South African citrus industry. The president added that strong export growth in wine, maize, nuts, deciduous fruit and sugar cane was also recorded.

The address by the president were received well by the agricultural sector. However, Farmer’s weekly reports that the chairperson of the African Farmer’s Association of South Africa, Neo Masithela, went on to plead that there needs to be more action put towards the industry. He continued to add that key fundamental factors affecting economic growth within agriculture needed to be addressed as well.

“We hope to see government addressing the gap between the haves and the have nots in the agriculture value chain as a whole, to create a unified industry that would be more sustainable in the long run” said Mr Masithela.
Also commenting on the SONA, Agri SA’s executive Director Mr. Christo Van de Rheede, went on to add that Agri SA’s relationship with government had worked well throughout the course of recent years, yet what they currently needed to see was action.