The Climate Crisis and Local Farming Explained

Maize, a staple. Image sourced from Harvest Plus

The ability to farm food is the foundation of any society. This holds truer for Eswatini than in most places. Not only does Eswatini rely extremely heavily on agriculture for export revenue, but subsistence agriculture also supports much of the country’s rural population. The contribution of farming to Eswatini’s GDP had declined over the last few years. While factors such as under-investment and HIV AIDs have played a role, the impact of a changing climate is undeniable. These infographics help explain the country’s dependency on agriculture and the way climate change will impact this vital food growing sector. 

 7 in 10 Emaswati are directly dependent on agriculture for income. The global authority on climate change, the IPCC states that agriculture is a sector that is especially vulnerable to climate change. This 70% of the Swazi population that relies mainly on farming for their livelihoods are being and will continue to be hard hit by a changing climate. Even those not directly dependent on agriculture for income will be impacted by a range of social knock-on effects.

75% of export revenue comes from agricultural products. The country’s biggest exports include soft drink concentrates, sugar, timber, cotton string, citrus, and canned fruit. Most of these products can and will continue to be negatively affected by changing rainfall patterns. If current global warming trends continue, a substantial source of income for Eswatini will rapidly decline. 

Eswatini’s agriculture includes sugarcane, cattle, forestry, sorghum and peanuts. These crops and livestock all have varying extents to which they can adapt to the impacts of a changing climate. More drought and extreme weather tolerant breeds and cultivars will have to be farmed to adapt.

The impacts of the climate crisis on Eswatini’s agriculture are extreme:

  • A projected 40% reduction in river flows
  • Extinction and reduced biodiversity 
  • Variable precipitation patterns
  • Crop failures and livestock death
  • Increase (in frequency and severity) of extreme weather events such as droughts and cyclones
  • Increased spread of diseases among livestock and crops
  • Desertification and shrinking arable land

The impacts on agriculture have knock-on social impacts:

  • Heightened food insecurity
  • Increase in conflict and violence
  • Increased inequality
  • Economic decline
  • Exacerbated health issues
  • Increased migration and displacement
  • Disruption of social and cultural systems

The impacts on livestock such as cattle have especially dire consequences. Livestock support Emaswati’s lives in countless ways — food, fertiliser, income, ploughing for other crops, culture and weddings. A changing climate will decrease farmer’s ability to have healthy herds, disrupting all the ways in which livestock support life.

It is clear that a changing climate is going to impact how our farmers and households produce food. Farmers are the bedrock of our society so all of us will be impacted. We are heading for climate catastrophe, but its not too late to implement the solutions we have to make sure these impacts will be mitigated.

The information from this post comes from this University of Eswatini Study and this government publication.