Impacts of supplemental irrigation as a climate change adaptation strategy for maize production: a case of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa
Dry spells and climatic hazards are responsible for maize output decline, sometimes to levels below potential yield levels. There is a pressing need to reduce the gap between actual and potential maize yield/ha, especially among farmers in semi-arid regions. This present study examines the potential role of supplemental irrigation and its differential impact on maize yield in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. In this study, maize yield data were generated from information recorded over a period of 20 years by farmers in Ntabankulu through cross-sectional interviews with 124 randomly-selected farming households. Maize yields for interviewed farmers were analysed for each of the experienced climatic hazards, for yield decline per ha and preferable adaptation strategies. Maize yield analyses show a maximum ceiling/attainable yield of 0.234 t/ha and average farm yield of 0.146 t/ha. Floods or hailstorms cause 75% decline in maize yield/ha and there was no significant difference between farmers practising irrigation and those practising dryland farming (P > 0.05). Low/no rains throughout the season; delay or low onset of rainfall and a rain-break for a week or more in a season results in 75%; 54% and 50.5% decline in maize yield/ha, respectively. On a scale of 1 to 10, farmers highly rank practicing supplementary irrigation (8.4) and change of planting date (7.8) as important adaptation strategies. Rescheduling planting date from the traditional planting times to earlier or later planting dates, assisted by use of weather reports and forecasting, to some extent curbs the impact of delays or slow onset of rainfall on yield. Supplemental irrigation is instrumental in reducing the impact of midseason drought (rains break for a week) and light rainfall throughout the season. Analyses of actual yields and yield decline against each of the experienced climatic hazards provided insight into management possibilities to stabilize maize output.