Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Analyses of existing institutional arrangements and the policy environment for managing risk related to crop production and post-harvest handling in climate disaster areas, with specific reference to smallholder farming in South Africa
30 April 2016


This report covers crop production and post-harvest management policies that affect smallholder framers, with a special focus on climate change disasters. Relevant institutional arrangements are also reflected upon and the report concludes with recommendations directed at policy makers.

1.1 Country overview

South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean to the south and east, with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland forming its northern borders. The country covers 122000 km2 and has about 52 million inhabitants who depend substantially on electrical energy (87 percent) and piped water in dwellings (74 percent). About 21 percent of households are agricultural, and 90 percent of those households are black. The area of land under agricultural production, especially of major crops such as maize, wheat and grain sorghum, has been declining over a number of decades, but productivity has been increasing, resulting in stable crop production or moderate increases.

In recent years the contribution of agriculture to the GDP has been between 2% and 3% and has been gradually declining as the South African economy reorients to the secondary and tertiary sectors (SADC, 2011). About 13 percent of South Africa's surface area can be used for crop production. Some 1.3 million hectares are under irrigation. The most important factor limiting agricultural production is the availability of water. Rainfall is distributed unevenly across the country. Almost 50 percent of South Africa's water is used for agricultural purposes.

The agricultural sector in South Africa is characterized by dualism. Large-scale commercial and smallholder sectors exist side-by-side. The former comprises of well-resourced, large, mainly white-owned and operated farms. Superior production techniques allowed this sector to produce surplus maize in the 2009/10 season. The latter are resource-poor, small farms owned and operated by black farmers who mainly produce for subsistence and lack institutional support (Mudhara, 2010). Smallholder farmers in South Africa face various challenges to their growth and ability to contribute to food security compared to the commercial farmers, such as lack of access to land. Most smallholder farmers are located in rural areas and mostly in the former Bantustans, where a lack of both physical and institutional infrastructure limits their expansion. Lack of access to proper roads, for example, limits the ability of a farmer to transport inputs and produce and to access information. Markets for agricultural inputs and outputs are often missing and unreliable for smallholder farmers (DAFF 2012a).

1.2 Climatic risks to smallholder crop production in South Africa

Climatic risks faced by farmers in South Africa include floods, cyclones, tornadoes, snow and drought. The provinces that are mostly affected by cyclones are Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Devastating cyclones occurred during the years 1950, 1966, 1977, 1984 and 2000, destroying crops, infrastructure and property. More than200 lives were lost due to the five cyclones. Hailstorms occur in all provinces, and they damage crops, and especially horticultural crops and vines. Floods occur in all the provinces but mainly Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. They destroy crops, property and infrastructure. Between 1974 and 2000, a total of 500 lives were lost due to floods. Extensive snow fall in the Eastern Cape also results in flooding, leading to deaths of people and livestock. Drought occurs in all the provinces, and smallholders are mostly affected because they rely on rain-fed agriculture. The drought of 2004 caused massive crop failure. The fluctuation of rainfall over the farming season and late onset of rainfall also affects farmers negatively, while rainfalls during the harvest period causes rotting and germination of maize while in the field.

1.3 Crop production and post-harvest handling risks to smallholders in South Africa

The way crops are handled after harvest differs from one crop to another. For cereal crops (mainly maize) they include field drying, platform drying, threshing/shelling, winnowing, transport to store and transport to market. It is estimated that physical grain losses before processing can range from 10 percent to 20 percent. Losses also occur when grain decays or is infected by pests, fungi and microbes. It is estimated that about 12.3 percent of maize is lost through post-harvest handling in South Africa, while Oelofse and Nahman (not dated) calculated that average food waste ranged from 19% for cereals to as much as 52% for fruits and vegetables.

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