Hot cli­mate threat to live­stock, maize crops in south­ern Africa

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEREE BEGA

SCORCH­ING tem­per­a­tures which might col­lapse south­ern Africa’s maize crops and Botswana’s live­stock farm­ing sec­tor may be some of the cli­mate change “trig­gers” which could in­flu­ence large-scale move­ment of peo­ple to cities and across borders in the re­gion.

This is ac­cord­ing to Fran­cois En­gel­brecht, the prin­ci­pal re­searcher and re­search group leader for cli­mate stud­ies, mod­el­ling and en­vi­ron­men­tal health at the Coun­cil for Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search (CSIR).

He was part of a dis­cus­sion this week, or­gan­ised by the Wa­ter Re­search Commission ( WRC), on cli­mate-in­duced mi­gra­tion in south­ern Africa.

En­gel­brecht’s talk fo­cused on typ­i­cal cli­mate change in­duced tipping points in Africa that could lead to large mi­gra­tion of peo­ple.

How­ever, he em­pha­sised cli­mate change was of­ten an ad­di­tional fac­tor in sys­tems that were al­ready stressed. “Cli­mate change some­times in­duces a tipping point in a sys­tem,” he said.

“In the first place in Africa, we’re look­ing at very dras­tic in­creases in tem­per­a­ture. The sum­mer of 2015/ 2016 was the warm­est ever recorded. In South Africa, tem­per­a­ture in­creases of 2ºC to 3ºC have al­ready oc­curred over the past cen­tury. On top of that come these big, fre­quent heat­wave events.

“The most vul­ner­a­ble sys­tems are rain-fed sub­sis­tence farm­ing. The maize crop is pro­jected to be un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure from cli­mate change.

“Some mod­els project the to­tal col­lapse of the maize crop un­der a six-de­gree warmer tem­per­a­ture. At best, we’re look­ing at mas­sive productions in maize crop yield.

“If you’re a sub­sis­tence farmer and your crop fails two or three years in a row, you have no choice but to go to the city. That’s one big po­ten­tial cause of mi­gra­tion. We’re not nec­es­sar­ily talk­ing about peo­ple cross­ing coun­try borders, but ru­ral ar­eas to cities and per­haps to cities in other coun­tries with better prospects. That’s one thing we can flag.”

The sec­ond was live­stock, which was al­ready a “huge burn­ing point” in Botswana. “This is be­cause, al­ready when they have big droughts, we see tens of thou­sands of die-offs of cat­tle.

“Now imag­ine a fu­ture world where ev­ery day is six de­grees warmer than it would be. That ac­tu­ally means ev­ery day we ex­ceed the crit­i­cal thresh­old for cat­tle to be af­fected in terms of mor­tal­ity.

“When the tem­per­a­ture ex­ceeds 37ºC, ba­si­cally, it’s life threat­en­ing for cat­tle. If ev­ery day in the sea­son looks like that, you’re look­ing at a po­ten­tial col­lapse of cat­tle farm­ing in Botswana.”

‘We’re look­ing at very

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