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.