Agriculture is Under Threat



As we discuss the budget for the department of agriculture we should perhaps look at the threats facing this crucial industry. When the discussion is about agriculture, most people use terms like food security, sustainable livelihoods, land tenure, as well as technology and skills development.

We know that farming is becoming increasingly difficult due to price increases in fertiliser, fuel, labour and machinery.

Besides the economic factors, this sector will have to acknowledge global warming and water scarcity as serious threats in the near future. In Bangladesh, for example, floods and cyclones have changed eating habits causing increased production of potatoes in the place of rice. Alternative sources of protein to meat and milk such as legumes will increase. Legumes are already a greater source of food for developing countries, about 5%, as apposed to about 0,5% for developing countries.

South Africa and the Free State are no exceptions to this. In this respect our agricultural sector will have to take the following effects of global warming into account:

1. Temperature will continue to increase which is expected to shorten the duration between sowing and harvesting which will have an adverse effect on productivity.

1. The frequency of droughts can be expected to increase and rainfall will be difficult to predict with any accuracy.

1. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere can increase photosynthesis in plants, but can also cause increased biomass growth and a reduction in grain yields.

1. Extreme climatic conditions will result in unpredictable intense rainfall, droughts, and heat waves in different parts of the country.

1. Crop pests will develop more rapidly. It is expected that a 2 degree Celsius increase in temperature could cause up to five additional life cycles per season for certain insects and increase the time span of infestations due to increased summer months.

1. As urban centres feel the full impact of water scarcity, the agricultural sector will have to evolve to make provision for water conservation and changes in dietary habits of an overpopulated water scarce planet.

Speaker, unfortunately climate change is not going to disappear. The agricultural sector will have to adapt very rapidly to this very real threat.

A report titled: “The Food Gap The Impacts of Climate Change on Food Production: A 2020 Perspective” released by the Universal Ecological Fund indicates that climate change will have severe impacts in terms of decreased rainfall in areas such as Africa, where it is expected that agricultural yield could be affected by as much as 50% in some countries. In Asia the greatest threat will be in terms of water scarcity, while in other areas of the world agricultural production will be most affected. Interestingly animal feeds amount to 35% of the word’s cereals production.

In this respect the Water Footprint Network at the University of Twente in Amsterdam supplies interesting statistics on the human water footprint. Their studies indicate that it takes 15 400 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef, as opposed to 2500 litres for a kilogram of rice and1600 litres for a kilogram of bread.

An article published in Energy Policy this year titled “The relative greenhouse gas impacts of realistic dietary choices” indicated that if the UK were to change from an average diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet, the GHG savings could be as high as 22% or 26% respectively. This amounts to an equivalent of a 50% in current exhaust emissions from the entire UK passenger car fleet. An online article on Time for Change quotes the Animal Science Journal indicating that producing a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres (34,6 kg of CO2).

According to the World Watch Institute, 817 million tons of food is shipped around the planet every year. Imported food produces four times the emissions of a domestic diet. Buying from a local farmers market can thus also make a difference to our carbon footprint.

Speaker, it is not just the agricultural sector that will have to adapt to climate change and global warming, every individual will be affected by what we eat. For example, we can make a difference by establishing local food markets to reduce the transportation of foodstuffs.

In all the uncertainty of global warming, one thing is certain; we do not the privilege of following a business as usual approach to agriculture!

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