Climate change is expected to affect the livelihood of rural farmers in South Africa particularly the smallholder farmers, due to their overwhelming dependence on rain-fed agriculture. This study examines smallholder farmers' perception of climate change, the adaptation strategies adopted and factors that influences their adaptive decisions. The unit of data collection was household interview and focus group discussion. Climate data for the Olifants catchment (1986–2015) were also collected to validate farmers' perception of climate change with actual climate trend. Data collected were analysed using descriptive statistics, Mann–Kendall trend, Sen's slope estimator and multinomial logit regression model. Results revealed that smallholder farmers are aware of climate change (98%), their perception of these changes aligns with actual meteorological data, as the Mann–Kendall test confirms a decreasing inter-annual rainfall trend (−0.172) and an increasing temperature trend (0.004). These changes in temperature and precipitation have prompted the adoption of various adaptation responses, among which the use of improved seeds, application of chemical fertilizer and changing planting dates were the most commonly practised. The main barriers to the adoption of adaptation strategies were lack of access to credit facility, market, irrigation, information about climate change and lack of extension service. The implication of this study is to provide information to policy-makers on the current adaptation responses adopted by farmers and ways in which their adaptive capacity can be improved in order to ensure food security.


  • Farmers perceived changes in temperature and precipitation.

  • Perception of climate change aligns with actual climate data.

  • Smallholder farmers in the catchment are significantly vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

  • Farmers perceived that the adoption of adaptation strategies can improve crop production.

  • Age and years of farming had a determining influence on the adoption of changing planting date as an adaptive response.

Graphical Abstract

Graphical Abstract
Graphical Abstract
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