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 The SmartAgri plan, launched during May 2016, and with the vision “Leading the way to a climate-resilient agricultural future for the Western Cape with a coordinated sector plan”, has set the scene for focused action and implementation in the agricultural sector. The plan has been widely acknowledged by the agricultural sector as one of the best plans developed for the sector. Furthermore, owing to its position as a highly vulnerable sector, agriculture is the first sector in the province to benefit from a sectoral climate change response framework and plan. The plan presents the “road map” for the agricultural sector to travel towards a more productive and sustainable future, despite the uncertainties around specific climate projections. The detailed background to the plan, its four strategic focus areas, six priority projects, regional and commodity briefs and case studies, as well as proposed actions, are available on this website. 

Putting the plan into action

Although developed after intensive stakeholder engagements, the SmartAgri plan has to be “taken back” to the sector with focussed and well-coordinated actions to enhance the resilience of our farmers and other stakeholders. In this regard, the Department will play a coordinating and catalytic role to give impetus to the implementation of the plan. In this short article, a few actions on implementation are shared. 

Shortly after launching SmartAgri, the 2015/2016 drought and heat wave led to losses of 200 000 tonnes of wheat (50-100% per farm), 230 ha of potatoes, and 15% of fruit, with ±ca. 17 000 cattle requiring fodder assistance. The Department, in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP)(also partner in developing the SmartAgri plan), hosted a provincial multi-stakeholder Drought Dialogue in June 2016 as part of the SmartAgri roll out to discuss the current drought, lessons learnt and ways to mitigate drought conditions in the future. Agreement was reached on a set of 32 high priority, actionable interventions for the provincial government to strengthen the response to the current and future droughts. These were further refined to five areas for immediate attention. An action plan for these priorities has been developed under the guidance of the Drought Task Team of DOA, in partnership with Agri Western Cape and AFASA. The drought dialogue priorities aligned closely with key areas identified in the SmartAgri Plan and were testimony to the valuable input of our stakeholders during the development of the plan.

In order for the SmartAgri plan to be rolled out in a more effective way, Dr Stephanie Midgley, former project leader during the development of the SmartAgri plan, was appointed as a specialist advisor for a period of 12 months, commencing 1 September 2016. Since her appointment, Dr Midgley has assisted the Department with presentations at various internal departmental events, commodity organisations, study groups, stakeholder organisations, municipalities, commented on climate change documents and proposals, and attended various meetings on national level. Various popular publications were also published on climate smart production practises. The SmartAgri Steering Committee continued to convene quarterly to keep the momentum on the implementation of the plan. Climate change advisories were prepared by DEADP and forwarded to all municipalities for incorporation into their respective Integrated Development Plans (IDP’s).

Research gaps identified during the development of the plan have been communicated to all tertiary institutions and innovative ways to appoint post-graduate students to climate smart projects are currently being explored.

Conservation Agriculture (CA) has been identified as one of the six key priority projects which will fast track climate change resilience of the agricultural sector in the Western Cape. The first working group of these six priority projects was convened early in April to ensure that CA will also be expanded to other crops and livestock as well. A CA Community of Practice (COP) is currently being institutionalised. Two new climate smart research projects were also approved by the Department, i.e. the “Rehabilitation of abandoned potato circles in the Sandveld area of the West Coast” and “Quantifying between and within animal components of variation in common indicators of heat stress in Western Cape resource flocks”.

The Department has furthermore committed its continued financial support to the GreenAgri portal and Agri-sector desk hosted by GreenCape to act as a support tool to our stakeholders enquiring on, and operating in the green and climate smart space. Furthermore, a brand-new newsletter on SmartAgri will be launched soon – watch this space for more Climate Smart news.

Background on the SmartAgri project

The Smart Agriculture for Climate Resilience (SmartAgri) project was a collaborative project between the Western Cape Department of Agriculture (DOA) and the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs & Development Planning (DEA&DP), and the University of Cape Town’s African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI). SmartAgri has provided a road map for actionable and prioritised initiatives that will take the agricultural sector road towards greater resilience in the face of climate challenges. 

SmartAgri has resulted in several resources for the agricultural sector including:

1. SmartAgri Plan

2. A Status Quo Review of climate change and the agricultural sector in the Western Cape

3. Briefs that provide guidance and information on specific regions and commodities

4. Case Studies

SmartAgri was planned in three phases. In Phase 1 (August to December 2014), a Status Quo Review of Climate Change and the Agricultural Sector of the Western Cape Province was conducted, with inputs from stakeholders in the western and eastern parts of the Province. In Phase 2 (January to September 2015), an extensive series of stakeholder workshops across all the districts, together with further analysis, led to a draft Climate Change Response Framework for the Agricultural Sector of the Western Cape. Phase 3 started (October 2015) with a provincial workshop with key decision makers at a district level. This was followed up with regionally focused workshops for district and local municipalities. These provided an opportunity to strengthen the cooperation between the agricultural sector and local government. The SmartAgri team also held a series of targeted focus group meetings with decision makers involved in priority areas such as Disaster Risk Management, land use planning, catchment management and crop and livestock health management. The aim of the workshops and focus groups was to jointly develop the essential elements of the Climate Change Response Implementation Plan, to foster support and ownership of the Plan, and build the basis of responsibilities and partnerships required for its effective implementation.

The SmartAgri project was headed by Stephanie Midgley, a researcher and project manager in agriculture, food security and climate change. She holds a PhD in Botany and an MScAgric in Horticultural Science, and has worked on climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation since 1992. Also assisting was Dr. Nadine Methner, a post-doctoral researcher at ACDI who worked on the stakeholder engagement process and the Climate Change Response Framework and Implementation Plan, and Prof. Mark New, director of ACDI, who worked on the strategic design of the project, and the development and roll out of the framework.

Other consortium members and authors for the SmartAgri project included:

Anton Cartwright, Econologic

Mary Cole, Development–

Dr. James Cullis, Aurecon South Africa

Prof. Scott Drimie, Food Security Initiative, Stellenbosch University

Prof Kennedy Dzama, Stellenbosch University

Belinda Guillot, Living Lands

Julia Harper, Food Security Initiative, Stellenbosch University

Dr. Chris Jack, Climate Systems Analysis Group, University of Cape Town

Dr. Peter Johnston, Climate Systems Analysis Group, University of Cape Town

Katrine Claassens, African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town

Dr. Tony Knowles, Cirrus Advisory Services

Dr. Daan Louw of OABS Development (Pty) Ltd

Dr. Amos Madhlopa, Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town

Dr. Cletos Mapiye, Stellenbosch University

Prof. Guy Midgley, Stellenbosch University

Dr. Hamman Oosthuizen, OABS Development

Prof. Julian Smit, Geomatics Division, University of Cape Town

Dieter van den Broeck, Living Lands