Research Articles

Agriculture production’s sensitivity to changes in climate in South Africa

James Blignaut, Liza Ueckermann, James Aronson
South African Journal of Science | Vol 105, No 1/2 | a4 | DOI: | © 2009 James Blignaut, Liza Ueckermann, James Aronson | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 December 2009 | Published: 11 December 2009

About the author(s)

James Blignaut,, South Africa
Liza Ueckermann,, New Zealand
James Aronson,, United States


South Africa in general has been approximately 2% hotter and at least 6% drier over the ten years between 1997 and 2006 compared to the 1970s. The use of water has also increased greatly over this same period. By 2000, 98.6% of that year’s surface water yield and 41% of the annual utilisable potential of ground water was allocated to use. Irrigation agriculture, comprising 60% of total consumption, is by far the largest single consumer of water. Given these climatic and water use changes as a backdrop, we employed a panel data econometric model to estimate how sensitive the nation’s agriculture may be to changes in rainfall. Net agricultural income in the provinces, contributing 10% or more to total production of both field crops and horticulture, is likely to be negatively affected by a decline in rainfall, especially rain-fed agriculture. For the country as a whole, each 1% decline in rainfall is likely to lead to a 1.1% decline in the production of maize (a summer grain) and a 0.5% decline in winter wheat. These results are discussed with respect to both established and emerging farmers, and the type of agriculture that should be favoured or phased out in different parts of the country, in view of current and projected trends in climate, increasing water use, and declining water availability.


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