What do growers need to know? Summarised by Anna Mouton.
A team led by Dr Stephanie Midgley, Specialist Scientist for Climate Change at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, recently completed a Hortgro-funded climate change response strategy for the South African deciduous-fruit industry.
The science-based strategy was co-developed with industry stakeholders and focuses on climate change adaptation and resilience while recognising the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. This article summarises the highlights of the strategy.
Climate change alters temperature and precipitation. Researchers are confident that Sub-Saharan Africa is warming and will suffer more frequent and extreme high-temperature events. Precipitation is more complex to model than temperature, and different regions may experience increases or decreases.
Projected changes in mean annual temperatures in the intermediate future are shown above. Some orchards planted this season will still be around to face these conditions, but South African fruit-growing areas already feel the heat. Data show that South Africa is warming faster than the global average — mean annual temperatures rose by approximately 0.14 °C per decade across South Africa from 1951–2015.
The most substantial temperature increases have occurred in spring and autumn, while the largest potential evapotranspiration increases have been in summer. Records indicate that rainfall over winter-rainfall regions has been declining since the 1960s. The future is less certain for summer-rainfall regions. The combination of reduced or similar rainfall and increased temperatures will drive higher evaporative demand — soil and plants will dry faster.
Parts of South Africa will likely experience more extreme rainfall events more often, whereas drier areas will experience more droughts.
The climate models also predict that the problem of insufficient winter chill will worsen in many areas where pome and stone fruit are grown.
The Vision of the Climate Change Response Strategy
A sustainable deciduous-fruit industry that is productive, competitive, equitable, and resilient across the value chain, with net zero emissions by 2050.
The Goal of the Climate Change Response Strategy
To provide a roadmap for the deciduous-fruit industry to respond to climate change risks and opportunities through innovation, leadership, and collective action while securing the environmental and societal goods and services that underpin a productive, resilient, and sustainable industry in the long term.
Midgley and her team started by reviewing the relevant literature and policies and obtaining inputs from a steering committee that included technical advisers, researchers, and Hortgro representatives. A series of workshops with growers and other industry stakeholders in the major production regions followed.
The result was a description of the risks posed by climate change and a prioritised set of adaptation and mitigation responses, summarised below.
Climate change threatens the South African deciduous-fruit industry’s productivity, profitability, competitiveness, and sustainability. It was one of the top five high-impact and high-uncertainty drivers of change identified during the 2021 Hortgro Vision of the Future study.
Planning and decision-making by the industry is already supported through climate-related projects such as Confronting Climate Change, the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa, TerraClim, and a research portfolio with a strong focus on climate and water risks and technology development.
Future-proofing the industry against climate change requires greater resilience, timeous and effective adaptation, a lower-carbon industry, and a path to net zero carbon emissions. This is why Hortgro commissioned a climate change response strategy.
The team identified four strategic focus areas based on a synthesis of the risks and response options:
- Build climate resilience and adaptive capacity.
- Transition to low-carbon fruit production and value chains.
- Formal enablers. Strengthen physical and financial capital. Develop supportive policies, regulations, and agreements.
- Informal enablers. Strengthen human and social capital.
They then listed objectives within each focus area and identified nearly 50 actions that can be taken toward achieving these objectives.
The strategy recommends a seven-step approach to implementation:
- Prioritise the actions and plan their execution.
- Assign the responsibility for implementation to a position within Hortgro.
- Consider the objectives and actions when planning Hortgro-funded research.
- Motivate actions by identifying and communicating all direct and indirect benefits.
- Inform stakeholders about the strategy.
- Collaborate with diverse stakeholders.
- Involve young people.