Karoo farmers living and working experiences in protracted drought conditions: a case study

Master Thesis


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In the South African context, a geographical region prone to the occurrence of frequent and intense periods of drought, the emergence of climate conditions reaching new extremes raises concerns of adaptability to sustain living and work well-being in such circumstances. The realisation of economic, social, environmental and psychological impacts resultant from drought conditions is particularly relevant to farmers, an occupation group who are often characterised by socio-economic vulnerability in South Africa. Consequently, this research seeks to explore the yet undocumented experiences of farmers living and working in the current drought conditions, located in the Karoo region of South Africa. A further aim of this research is to explore how these experiences have affected farmers' psychological well-being, as well as understanding the coping mechanisms they have used to deal with this long-standing crisis situation. The present study adopted an exploratory case study design using an interpretivist paradigmatic stance. Based on research conducted and reviewed within the climate change domain, it was understood that farmers' experiences of working in drought conditions were complex, context specific and differed amongst individuals. Therefore, knowledge was viewed as subjective as there was no particular, correct path to knowledge as it emerged through various contexts. The case under study was Karoo farmers in the Western Cape province. Their living and working experiences, and coping mechanisms were specific to their surrounding landscapes and chosen type of farming. Furthermore, this case study was particularly concerned with farmers who retained close living, working and cultural relationships to their natural environments. Consequently, the unit of analysis in this study was the individual. A purposive sampling strategy was adopted and a total of eight participants were interviewed. An inductive approach to analysing the data was undertaken, using Braun and Clarke's (2006) Thematic Analysis. Three major themes emerged during the analysis with a number of associated sub-themes. The results describe the sample's shared ecological grief experiences due to both implicit and explicit impacts resultant from sustained drought conditions. The negative psychological outcomes the sample endured as a result of these experiences, demonstrates the implication of living and working in such conditions for work and psychological well-being. The common coping mechanisms employed over this time are also extracted from the themes. The discussion presents the findings of this study through the lens of the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach framework, to understand how drought conditions presents barriers to these farmers sustaining their well-being.