Perception and adaptation strategies of smallholder farmers to drought in the Free State Province, South Africa
Drought is defined as an insufficiency of rainfall over an extended period of time. Drought has affected a large number of smallholder farmers in the Free State province, and more importantly, in Thaba „Nchu. The causes of vulnerability to drought risk in the Free State province are low average rainfall, poverty and inequitable development in rural areas. During drought periods, smallholder farmers cannot manage or cope with drought without external influence in terms of assistance or relief packages from government and non-governmental agencies. It is widely believed that the response of government to relief packages in times of hazards and natural disasters us usually either late, inadequate or non-existent, which makes farmers more vulnerable to drought. An assessment of smallholder farmers‟ perceptions of drought can help uncovering the nature of the risk and the underlying factors associated with socio-economic consequences. It is important to gain the perceptions of smallholder farmers, because any attempts to elicit adaptive behavioural patterns should come only after understanding how climate variability is perceived by farmers and what shapes their perception. The main objective of this research was to understand smallholder farmers‟ perceptions ofand coping strategies with regard to drought in Thaba „Nchu in the Free State Province of South Africa. In order to cope with the effects of drought, different coping strategies were adopted by smallholder farmers in Thaba „Nchu, based on the limited resources available at the household level as well as external help. The study analysed the factors that influence which coping/adaptation strategies farmers choose during drought in the Free State province.Data for this study was collected using structured questionnaires. A sample size of 301 smallholder farmers from Thaba „Nchu was used. Thesustainable livelihoods framework (SLF) was used to identify and describe the different capitals that were used to analyse the social conditions of the farmers and was used to indicating vulnerability. The development and use of indicators to analyse social conditions show how vulnerable smallholder farmers are to drought when looking at the different demographics. The multinomial logit model (MLM) was used to examine the factors that influence farmers‟ choice of coping/adaptation strategies in the study area. The study revealed that farmers in Thaba „Nchu are aware of the frequency of drought and that it is going to occur in the years to come. The farmers perceived vegetation loss as a very severe effect of drought. The inability to cope with and recover from drought makes farmers more vulnerable. The most frequently used coping strategies by smallholder farmers in Thaba „Nchu during the 2015/2016 drought were rainwater harvesting and assistance from the government. Although most of the farmers did not have access to extension services, they made use of the available resources to help them cope. Different adaptation measures were used during the 2015/2016 drought in Thaba „Nchu and the majority of the farmers implemented water-use restriction as a coping strategy. The analysis showed that characteristics such as age, gender, drought frequency, education, monthly income and farming skills were the most important contributors to the farmers‟ choice of coping strategies. The results show that factors such as gender, age, farming skills, drought frequency and the natural capital index positively influence farmers‟ choices of effective adaptation strategies. Improving insurance scheme is negatively influenced by seasonal farming. Primary, secondary and tertiary education, monthly income and the economic capital index positively and negatively influence choices of effective adaptation strategies. Technical measures are positively influenced by the human capital index. Improving forecasting is negatively influenced by institutional capital index. Smallholder farmers used different coping strategies, based on their available resources. The main conclusion from this study is that smallholder farmers in Thaba „Nchu are affected by drought and have the potential to prepare and apply certain coping strategies when drought occurs in the future. This can be achieved with help from the Department of Agriculture and policymakers implementing new policies that aid adaptation. This study provides solutions for smallholder farmers on how to cope better with drought in the coming years.