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Assessing the Vulnerability of Agriculture to Climate Change in Southern Africa
Synthesis Report
December 2010
Peter Zhou, Patrick Gwimbi, Genito A Maure, Peter Johnston, Joseph K Kanyanga, Francis T Mugabe, Absalom M Manyats, Michael T Masarirambi, Timothy S Thomas, Sepo Hachigonta and Gerald Nelson


Climate change represents one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing the planet today. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries, climate change is a major threat to sustainable development and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The combined effects of climate change, increased global population and income growth, among others, threaten to affect food and water resources that are critical for livelihoods in SSA. This is especially true for those communities who live in the drylands of Africa and who rely wholly on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), average temperature in SSA is projected to increase between 1.5 and 3.1°C by 2050. These upward temperature trends are projected to continue beyond 2050. Projections for precipitation trends vary spatially and from one model to another. The exact nature and extent of the impact of climate change on temperature and precipitation distribution pattern remain uncertain and it is the poor and vulnerable who will be the most susceptible to changes in climate (variability or climate change).

The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in collaboration with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI on a regional climate change adaptation project titled "Strategies for Adapting to Climate Change in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa: Targeting the Most Vulnerable" which covers southern and eastern Africa. The purpose of the study is to help policymakers and researchers better understand and anticipate the likely impacts of climate change on agriculture and on vulnerable households in southern Africa. This will help provide policymakers and farmers in SSA with tools to identify and implement appropriate adaptation strategies. This report is a summary of results from 10 southern African countries; Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The study uses statistical information from various sectors and aspects of the southern African society, economy and natural environment to assess the vulnerability of agriculture to climate change impacts. IFPRI provided an initial set of data, maps and tables on various aspects of vulnerability and descriptive material. The data used includes; four general circulation (GCM) models (CNRM-CM3, CSIRO-MK3, ECHAM5 and MIROC3.3) based on the AB1 scenario; a crop model to assess the impact of climate changes on agricultural production; global modelling supply and demand for food in order to predict food price trends; and stakeholder workshop recommendations. Data from the four GCMs and a decision support system (DSSAT) is used to assess changes in yields of maize, cotton, sorghum and millets due to climate change. The results from the study will be presented according to each given country.

Agriculture venerability to climate change in South Africa
About 81% of the total land area of South Africa is farmed. The most important limiting factor in agricultural production is water availability. Almost 50% of South Africa's surface water is used for agricultural purposes. Among other stressors, climate change is superimposed upon this stressor and is anticipated to exacerbate the issues affecting vulnerable communities. In combination with low adaptive capacity, the South African agriculture sector through the value chain is highly vulnerable to effects of climate change and the associated increase in climate extremes.

Temperatures across South Africa have increased in the historical past, and are projected to increase into the future throughout the 21st century. The warming will be greatest in the interior of the country and less along the coast. Assuming a moderate to high growth in greenhouse gas concentrations, by mid-century the coast is likely to warm by around 1°C and the interior around 3°C. Evaporation is likely to increase due to higher temperatures. This is likely to increase the incidence of drought potential (as defined by the response of available soil moisture and available free water), possibly even if the total rainfall of a region increases.

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