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Climate change and maize production in the Vaal catchment of South Africa: assessment of farmers’ awareness, perceptions and adaptation strategies

Remilekun T. Akanbi*, Nerhene Davis, Thando Ndarana

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: South Africa’s maize production in recent years has been confronted with challenges related to climate-change which have prompted farmers to adapt their production activities. This study assesses factors informing the adaptive decision-making of maize farmers in the Vaal catchment by examining linkages between farmers’ experiences, their perceptions of climate change and the adaptation strategies they adopt. Data was collected using semi-structured household-level interviews, key informants’ interviews, and focus groups discussions. Catchment’s climate data was also collected to determine key trends (1989-2018) against the farmers’ level of awareness about these trends. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics, Mann-Kendall (MK) test, Sen’s slope test, climate-anomalies, and the Multinomial logit model (MNL). Results suggest that maize farmers in the catchment are aware of climate-change (95%), with many of them referring to it as “a shift in climate”. This perceived “shift” is supported by meteorological data, as MK test confirms a decreasing inter-annual precipitation trend (-0.149) and an intra-annual decreasing trend at the onset of the maize planting season (-0.167), with temperature showing an increasing trend (0.470). These trends have inspired the adoption of a range of timing-related responses and other farming and off-farm adaptations. MNL result revealed farmer perception, farmer typology, the nature of maize production (rainfed) as some of the variables with a deciding influence on the nature of adaptation adopted. The study confirms the importance of understanding intersections between qualitative and quantitative variables in triggering adaptive responses. Current strategies need to be expanded and supplemented to improve resilience and prevent maladaptation.