The term small-holder farmer refers to a producer that cultivates crops or rears livestock on a limited scale for subsistence purposes. The majority of small-scale farmers, especially in Namibia, rely on rain-fed agriculture to grow food production and secure their livelihoods.
The role of the small-holder farmer in agriculture goes beyond just providing for themselves but also plays an important role in ensuring food security for the masses and promoting poverty reduction within their communities.
However, with the constant change in the climate, areas heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture are becoming highly exposed to the adverse effects of climate change. This is through the change in frequency or intensity of the rainfall which negatively affects the farmers’ harvests and leads to a reduction in crop productivity. It is no secret that small-scale farmers are categorised as one of the most vulnerable groups to climate change. This is due to their dependency on rainfall but yet we still see very few information-sharing and adaptive measures being tailored to curb the challenges experienced by farmers. Through perception, we become more aware of our surroundings and can efficiently respond to these challenges by taking into consideration the different approaches that could be utilised.
Perception involves the way sensory information is organised, interpreted, and consciously experienced. The process of climate change perception is one that is complex and encompasses a range of psychological constructs such as local knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and cultural influences on how and why the climate is changing.
These perceptions differ from farmer to farmer; depending on all these different psychological constructs (culture and geographic context) which influence and shape the way the farmer perceives climate change. Understanding the farmer’s perception of climate change and their experiences over the years is essential in supporting the local farmers’ adaptation measures and mitigation strategies. It also allows better insights and information, particularly relevant to policy formulation or amendments on how to further address the challenges and uncertainties experienced by farmers. While small-scale farmers are at the frontline of the adverse impacts of climate change, it is also worth noting that the same psychological constructs have also allowed farmers to acquire rich local knowledge about local climatic conditions and the historical extremes on the ground. This local knowledge acquired is not only important for building adaptive measures but it is also a good indicator to assist decision-makers in better understanding the farmer’s level of perceptions concerning the concept of climate change. An example of the farmer’s perception is the New Era article published in 2022, titled: ‘Etunda asparagus project sprouts’. The local farmers held a demonstration in Etunda calling for the closure of the asparagus operation, claiming that the farm management was responsible for the prevention of rain through the installation of a device that delayed the rainy seasons. Another example is the biblical message being preached about the end of times. The book of Matthew 24, speaks about great calamities such as famines, natural disasters, and plagues, which will be experienced before Christ’s return. It is interesting to see how people perceive the causes of climate change throughout the farming community and these are the entry points that will assist in better understanding the level of perception amongst farmers to better address the challenges of the changing weather.
While most farmers agree that the climate is changing, the majority of farmers hold a different belief about the extent to which the climate is changing. The way in which farmers perceive the realities of climate change may differ from how climate scholars and a scientist might perceive it. This then affects the farmer’s choices of climate adaptation measures and further challenges regarding the planning and formulation of relevant policies that can enhance the farmer’s resilience to climate change. Understanding the perceived impacts and causes of climate change amongst farmers is essential because it helps identify the concerns and priorities of the farmers. It also helps us efficiently implement all programmes and policies targeted to reduce the impacts of climate change. Lastly, taking into consideration the local perceptions of climate change by farmers will also play an important role in whether these farmers will support the climate policies and programmes currently being adopted for climate action.
*Mario Siukuta is a part-time research assistant in the Department of Land and Property Sciences (DLPS) at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). The views expressed in this article are entirely his.