Agriculture Theme Page



Landcover themeBackground


Agriculture, both commercial and small scale, fulfils a prominent role in the economy and stability of the Southern African region. It serves as a vehicle to ensure food security and provides thousands of jobs annually. Maize is the largest locally produced field crop and the staple food of the South African population. Fruit and wine exports earn significant foreign exchange with South Africa ranked the 9th largest exporter of wine in the world.  However, the availability of water is a critical limiting factor for agricultural production. South Africa is a semi-arid country where the low average rainfall is unevenly distributed across the country. In addition the high inter-annual variability of rainfall makes agriculture especially vulnerable to droughts and other extreme events.

Predicted climate change may exacerbate existing climate variability and further increase the frequency of climate extremes such as droughts and heavy rainfall events. This will have significant effects on water supply and demand for the agricultural sector.  It will also impose new challenges for various crops, livestock regions and other farming systems across the country. Given the marginal nature of certain production areas, even slight variations in temperature and precipitation may have severe implications for all farming associated activities.


Irrigation accounts for 50% of the total water use in South Africa.



Maize,  the staple food of Southern Africa.


Dairy cows

Dairy farming is practiced all over South Africa.

Key words:

commercial agriculture, subsistence farming, small scale farming, field crops, livestock, horticulture, food security, water demand and availability, conservation farming, sustainable agriculture, land use, mitigation, adaptation, climate risk, climate envelopes, crop suitability, land suitability, agricultural potential, heat and chill units, crop thresholds, pest and diseases, agro-hydrology, crop yield, irrigation. 


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