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Dietary and agricultural adaptations to drought among smallholder farmers in South Africa: A qualitative study

Hawkins, Poppy; Geza, Wendy; Mabhaudhi, Tafadzwanashe; Sutherland, Catherine; Queenan, Kevin; Dangour, Alan; Scheelbeek, Pauline


Poppy Hawkins

Wendy Geza

Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudhi

Catherine Sutherland

Kevin Queenan

Alan Dangour

Pauline Scheelbeek


Building resilience to environmental change is an integral part of long-term climate adaptation planning and local policy. There is an increased understanding of the impact of climate change on global crop production however, little focus has been given to local adaptation pathways and rural smallholder community responses, especially regarding food security. It is becoming increasingly evident that local level decision-making plays a vital role in reducing vulnerability to environmental change. This research aimed to qualitatively investigate coping and adaptive strategies adopted by smallholder farming households to respond to the impacts of drought in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Focus group discussions (n = 7) consisting of 5–9 participants and individual interviews (n = 9) using pre-tested topic guides, involving a total of 57 adults were conducted in rural areas of drought-affected districts: Msinga, Richmond and Umbumbulu of KwaZulu-Natal, in July 2018. The data were analysed using thematic analysis in NVivo 12. Thematic analysis identified three principal themes: 1. Perceived effects of droughts on the local food system and diets; 2. Current coping strategies; and 3. Enablers for successful adaptation. All sites reported a change in food consumption habits, with the majority perceiving drought to be the main driver behind a shift from vegetable-based to starch-based diets and decreased animal source food consumption. Only short-term coping strategies were implemented across the study sites. However, knowledge of long-term adaptation strategies existed but was unattainable to most respondents. Recommendations of perceived context-specific long-term adaptation strategies that could be used at a local scale were communicated by the respondents. However, they would need external help to actualize them. A need exists to support smallholder communities’ short-term response methods to drought to achieve more holistic resilience and successful adaptation. Short-term adaptation strategies, if implemented alone, often have significant trade-offs with longer-term adaptation and building resilience. This study highlights the need for targeted, contextualised policy solutions to improve smallholder productivity during drought through a strategic combination of both short- and longer-term adaptation measures, i.e. short-term adaptation should be guided by a long-term adaptation strategy. Proper planning, including the use of climate scenarios combined with information on nutritional status, is needed to develop context-specific and transformative adaptation strategies. These strategies should aim to strengthen resilience at a local level and should be included as policy recommendations.


Hawkins, P., Geza, W., Mabhaudhi, T., Sutherland, C., Queenan, K., Dangour, A., & Scheelbeek, P. (2022). Dietary and agricultural adaptations to drought among smallholder farmers in South Africa: A qualitative study. Weather and Climate Extremes, 35, 100413.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 23, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 3, 2022
Publication Date Feb 3, 2022
Deposit Date Feb 13, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 14, 2022
Journal Weather and Climate Extremes
Print ISSN 2212-0947
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Pages 100413
Keywords Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law; Atmospheric Science; Geography, Planning and Development
Public URL