A farm in Franschhoek, Western Cape. Picture: TISO
A farm in Franschhoek, Western Cape. Picture: TISO

The Western Cape government is keen to fund a study on a sustainable agricultural sector in the face of climate change.

With effects of climate change, including freshwater shortages, climate instability and famine, already being felt, there have been growing calls for businesses and individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Agriculture is one of the most important components of the Western Cape economy. Sectors such as deciduous fruit, citrus and the wine industry lie at the heart of the region’s ability to drive economic development, contributing billions to SA’s GDP. For example, wine is one of SA’s largest agricultural exports, with nearly 100,000ha of vineyards, mostly in the Western Cape, accounting for 4% of world production. The industry contributes R36bn to GDP and employs nearly 290,000 people.

In all, the agricultural sector is also responsible for 18% of employment in the province.

But climate change threatens to decimate the sector, which has prompted the provincial government and industry players to scramble for long-term solutions to ensure it remains sustainable.

Last week Western Cape agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer said the industry needs a long-term plan to keep it sustainable. This comes as the province continues to feel the effects of the recent drought.

“This is not merely a drought, it is a national climatic disaster,” he said.

The MEC was speaking at a discussion Agri Western Cape convened with financial institutions and agribusinesses.

The provincial agriculture department explained at the weekend that it wants to consider all possible options to ensure the sector adapts to climate change. 

“For example, we are saying there are some areas in the region that should explore growing other drought-resistant crops,” said department spokesperson Daniel Johnson.

“The [MEC] is suggesting that we need a detailed study and research looking at how we can ensure the sector adapts to climate change. This will need to be discussed with all stakeholders,” Johnson said.

Jannie Strydom, CEO of Agri Western Cape, said the drought in certain parts of the province was now in its fifth year.

“With producers of long-term crops, ostriches and game that don’t qualify for government drought assistance, and with humanitarian help to drought-stricken farming communities that has now become critical, all role players need to work together to manage the economic realities of the drought,” said Strydom.

“We have to start thinking differently about disasters such as drought in order to manage the negative domino effect thereof proactively. The contribution of agriculture to the Western Cape economy is too important not to have a sustainable sector. A joint management strategy between all role players has become critically important to deal with the current circumstances in the province,” he said.

Meanwhile, last week trade union Saftu formally resolved to put the struggle against climate change on its agenda for rolling mass actions and to “join global strikes for climate change alongside young people behind the growing mass movements for climate justice”. 

phakathib@businesslive.co.za