Climate change is making farming more expensive and it’s up to us, farmers, to do something about it. As the climate in traditional red meat producing areas in South Africa becomes harsher and more inhospitable, we as farmers will increasingly be faced with various challenges, writes Philip Kruger, a Bonsmara stud farmer from the Free State.
There are skyrocketing input costs, lower production, new animal disease vectors, and other inconceivable challenges. Coupled with slow economic growth forecasts, this will be debilitating, if not life-threatening, for the future of farming in South Africa.
Climate change is already affecting South Africans on a daily basis. The sixth report of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it very clear: “Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.”
KZN floods: a stark reminder
Recent flooding in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo; and crippling droughts in the western parts of the country show us the cumulative effects of this phenomenon and the impact it has on the very lives of South Africans. More than 450 lives were lost in the floods and thousands of people lost their homes and everything they own. Furthermore, evidence suggests that these kinds of weather occurrences are likely to occur more frequently and become more intense.
The question, therefore, is no longer how we can avoid the effects of climate change, but rather how we adapt to the changing climate to protect our livelihoods.
The South African government has many policies aimed at addressing climate change, but as we have seen, a lack of funding and implementation makes them fairly useless.
There is also very little information contained in these policies on how the national government will support provincial and local governments to implement these plans. These policies merely pay lip service to the problem, especially when considering the fact that South Africa is the 12th biggest producer of greenhouse gases on the planet.
SA govt unlikely to act
An assessment of the South African national government’s policies on climate change conducted in 2016 by Meshack Zwane and Gaylor Montmasson-Clair of Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies found them “lacking at all policy levels”.
Very little has changed since then, and considering the government’s love affair with fossil fuels, we should not expect much action in the near future. For the moment then, it is not unfair to move government policies aside and look elsewhere. The responsibility now falls squarely on the red meat industry itself, and the time to tackle this crisis head-on is now.
Over many decades, red meat producers have proven themselves an invaluable part of the food chain in South Africa, producing high-quality meat at affordable prices for consumers.
This was especially evident during the Covid-19 pandemic when food producers in general, and meat producers in particular stepped up to the plate and made sure that there was never a shortage, despite attempts by the national government to centralise the distribution of said produce.
In 2023, in the midst of massive challenges faced by producers in the form of rolling blackouts, the industry still manages to provide a stable supply of meat to the market. This is despite the subsequent drop in prices to the producer. The resilience of the meat industry has proven a massive asset to the welfare of South Africans on a daily basis.
Red meat industry is well-placed
The red meat industry is therefore well-placed to pick up the slack left by the government’s wishy-washy policies, and apparent unwillingness or inability to get moving. Role players such as Agri-SA, the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO) and others are in a unique position to work with farmers, and other players in the value chain to prepare for and adapt to the challenges of climate change.
Climate change and the possible effects on producers as well as consumers have for a long time been discussed by the industry, but this has not yet led to a succinct plan. This is especially true for larger, more extensive farming setups. There are agile policies and solutions in place for smaller farms, and many of the farmers in this sector embrace these plans with fervour, with favourable results.
Larger commercial farmers are now looking for ways to prepare for this potentially devastating problem. These solutions, however, must be based on sound economic and environmental principles.
There are many obstacles in the way of producing such a plan. The red meat industry is in no way a stand-alone entity. There is a rich history of the symbiosis that exists among meat producers and other sectors of the economy. There, therefore, needs to be massive coordination between other role players such as the grain industry, climate experts, feedlots, abattoirs, government, outlets, and the consumer. And while it is almost inconceivable to imagine such a diverse group of people sitting around a table, the fact is our time is running out.
‘We need to act now’
Climate change is here, and we as role players in the industry need to act, and we need to act now. We do not have the luxury of waiting for someone else to do the job. There needs to be a concerted effort to join hands and come up with solutions which will ultimately set up South Africa in such a way that we not only weather the storm, but ultimately emerge stronger, and more resilient.
- Philip Kruger, together with his father, is a Bonsmara stud farmer in the western parts of the Free State. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Food For Mzansi.
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