How Does Drought Affect Farmers in South Africa?

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  • May 08, 2023

How Does Drought Affect Farmers

Drought is a recurring and severe problem for farmers in South Africa. The country’s arid and semi-arid regions experience frequent and prolonged periods of drought, which can have significant impacts on agricultural productivity, livelihoods, and food security. This paper will explore how drought affects farmers in South Africa, including the economic, social, and environmental impacts.

Economic Impacts

Drought has significant economic impacts on farmers in South Africa. It can lead to decreased crop yields, loss of livestock, and reduced income. Farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture are particularly vulnerable to drought, as they have no access to alternative water sources. Drought also increases the cost of production, as farmers need to invest in irrigation systems, water storage facilities, and alternative feed sources for their livestock.

Furthermore, drought can also have knock-on effects on the wider economy. Agriculture is an essential sector of the South African economy, accounting for around 3% of GDP and providing employment for over 800,000 people. A reduction in agricultural productivity due to drought can lead to job losses, decreased exports, and food price inflation, which can have a ripple effect on the entire economy.

Social Impacts

Drought can also have significant social impacts on farmers in South Africa. The loss of crops and livestock can lead to food insecurity, as farmers struggle to provide for their families and communities. This can exacerbate poverty and inequality, particularly in rural areas where agriculture is the primary source of income.

Moreover, the mental health and well-being of farmers can be affected by drought. Farmers who have invested their time and money into their farms may experience stress, anxiety, and depression when they see their livelihoods threatened by drought. In severe cases, farmers may have to sell their land or livestock, which can lead to a loss of identity and self-esteem.

Environmental Impacts

Drought can also have significant environmental impacts on farmers in South Africa. It can lead to soil degradation, desertification, and deforestation. When crops fail, farmers may resort to unsustainable practices such as overgrazing, which can lead to the destruction of vegetation and soil erosion. This can have long-term impacts on the environment, leading to reduced biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Furthermore, drought can also lead to water scarcity, as rivers, lakes, and aquifers dry up. This can have significant impacts on the local ecosystem, including the loss of aquatic habitats and decreased water quality. In turn, this can lead to a decline in fish populations, which can impact the livelihoods of fishing communities.

Impact on Livelihoods

Droughts have severe impacts on farmers’ livelihoods in South Africa. As agriculture is a significant source of employment and income for millions of people in the country, droughts can have devastating consequences for those who depend on it. Droughts can lead to crop failure, livestock deaths, and reduced yields, resulting in decreased income for farmers. This, in turn, affects their ability to provide for themselves and their families, as well as their ability to invest in their farms and communities.

During the 2015-2016 drought, farmers in South Africa lost an estimated R16 billion ($1.2 billion) due to crop failures and livestock deaths. The worst-affected areas were the Free State, North West, and Mpumalanga provinces, where maize and other crops failed due to a lack of rainfall. Many farmers were forced to sell their remaining livestock to pay for their expenses, and some even left their farms to seek other forms of employment.

Impact on Food Security

Droughts also have a significant impact on food security in South Africa. The country is already facing food security challenges, with millions of people experiencing hunger and malnutrition. Droughts exacerbate these challenges by reducing the availability of food and increasing its prices, making it difficult for vulnerable populations to access enough food. In some cases, droughts can lead to famine, as seen in other parts of Africa.

During the 2015-2016 drought, the price of maize, a staple food in South Africa, increased by more than 50%. This price increase had a ripple effect on other food items, making it difficult for low-income families to afford basic food items. As a result, the government had to provide food aid and other forms of assistance to those who were affected by the drought.

Mitigation Strategies

To mitigate the impact of droughts on farmers, several strategies can be implemented. These strategies include:

  1. Improved Water Management: Improved water management practices can help farmers conserve water and use it more efficiently. This can be achieved through the use of drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, and other water-saving technologies. Additionally, farmers can be encouraged to use drought-resistant crops that require less water.
  2. Crop Diversification: Crop diversification can help farmers reduce their reliance on a single crop and minimize their losses during droughts. By growing different crops, farmers can spread their risk and ensure that they have a source of income even if one crop fails.
  3. Early Warning Systems: Early warning systems can help farmers prepare for droughts by providing them with information about weather patterns and other indicators of drought. This can help farmers make informed decisions about planting and irrigation, as well as prepare for potential crop failures.
  4. Financial Assistance: Financial assistance can help farmers cope with the impact of droughts by providing them with the resources they need to sustain their farms and livelihoods. This can include subsidies, loans, and other forms of financial support.


In conclusion, droughts have severe impacts on farmers in South Africa, affecting their livelihoods, income, and food security. The country is particularly vulnerable to droughts due to its arid and semi-arid climate, making it essential to develop strategies to mitigate the impact of droughts. Improved water management, crop diversification, early warning systems, and financial assistance can help farmers cope with droughts and ensure that they can continue to provide for themselves and their communities. By implementing these strategies, South Africa can build resilience to droughts and ensure that its agriculture sector remains sustainable in the long term.


If you are a learner interested in learning more about drought, its causes, impacts, and management strategies, you can read the post about Geography Grade 11 Research about Drought Memorandum.

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