According to South Africa’s National Climate Change Response Policy:
Over 19 million, or 39%, of South Africans live in rural areas. Eighty percent of rural areas are commercial farming areas with low population densities, and 20% are former “homelands” where the agricultural sector has been undermined, populations are dense, and people are poor and largely reliant on urban remittances and social welfare for their livelihoods. Small-scale and homestead food production are practiced in rural areas on both high potential and marginal agricultural land, with roughly 1.3 million small-scale farm units. Seventy percent of the country’s materially poorest households live on small-scale farms and few of them produce enough food to feed themselves throughout the year.
Rural human settlements face the following climate change challenges:
• Small-scale and homestead/subsistence food production is particularly vulnerable to climate variability, relying mostly on dry land crop production with limited capital to invest in soil improvement and seed, or in weed, pest and disease control.
• Climate change, in particular changes in production systems and climate related damage and crop failures, is likely to negatively impact employment in rural areas.
• Spatial planning needs to address historical inequalities in land distribution without compromising the ability for the agricultural sector to contribute to national food security.
• Rural communities with the highest dependence on natural water sources are in Kwazulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. The former two will probably experience more flooding and water contamination. In addition, Limpopo will probably experience more droughts. These are areas with some of the materially poorest communities and under-resourced municipalities with limited capacity and skills to adapt to changing conditions.
• Rural areas are under-represented in the climate-monitoring network despite the fact that they are likely to be earliest and most significantly affected by climate change.
To address these challenges, South Africa will need to:
• Educate subsistence and small farmers on the potential risks of climate change, and support them to develop adaptation strategies with on-farm demonstration and experimentation.
• Put in place adaptation strategies that include agro-ecological farming practices like water harvesting and crop rotation, and will prioritise indigenous knowledge and local adaptive responses.
• Empower local communities, particularly women, who are often primary producers, in the process of design and implementation of adaptation strategies will be a key objective. Rural women will have a key role as decision-makers, enabling them to take ownership of their development strategies.
• Design and implement economic and livelihood diversification programmes in rural areas.
• Within the country’s research and development system, prioritise technologies for climate change adaptation within rural areas, including low water use irrigation systems, improved roll-out of rainwater harvesting strategies, and drought resistant seed varieties.
• Target adaptation programmes to build resilience among the most vulnerable sections of the rural population and ensure that disaster management architecture includes the provision of safety nets for rural communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This includes enhancing their knowledge of sustainable environments and optimising the ecosystem services that these provide.
Rucore’s approach to land use incorporating permaculture strategies at a local level goes a long way to effectively implementing the response solutions advocated in South Africa’s National Climate Change Response Policy as indicated above. With its partner organisations, Rucore is currently creating financial mechanisms to implement working examples of these strategies at several key sites in KwaZulu Natal, Northwest and Limpopo Provinces.
In May 2012, Rucore worked with the Thandanani Gardening Club and members of the Mambulu Village (Kwazulu-Natal) to implement best practice strategies in rainwater earthworks designed to: harvest water, control soil erosion, enhance biodiversity and set a foundation for the next stage of climate-smart garden development and demonstration.
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