Effects of ecological and conventional agricultural intensification practices on maize yields in sub-Saharan Africa under potential climate change

  • Folberth C
  • Yang H
  • Gaiser T
 et al. 
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Much of Africa is among the world’s regions with lowest yields in staple food crops, and climate change is expected to make it more difficult to catch up in crop production in particular in the long run. Various agronomic measures have been proposed for lifting agricultural production in Africa and to adapt it to climate change. Here, we present a projection of potential climate change impacts on maize yields under different intensification options in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) using an agronomic model, GIS-based EPIC (GEPIC). Fallow and nutrient management options taken into account are (a) conventional intensification with high mineral N supply and a bare fallow, (b) moderate mineral N supply and cowpea rotation, and (c) moderate mineral N supply and rotation with a fast growing N fixing tree Sesbania sesban. The simulations suggest that until the 2040s rotation with Sesbania will lead to an increase in yields due to increasing N supply besides improving water infiltration and soils’ water holding capacity. Intensive cultivation with a bare fallow or an herbaceous crop like cowpea in the rotation is predicted to result in lower yields and increased soil erosion during the same time span. However, yields are projected to decrease in all management scenarios towards the end of the century, should temperature increase beyond critical thresholds. The results suggest that the effect of eco-intensification as a sole means of adapting agriculture to climate change is limited in Sub-Saharan Africa. Highly adverse temperatures would rather have to be faced by improved heat tolerant cultivars, while strongly adverse decreases in precipitation would have to be faced by expanding irrigation where feasible. While the evaluation of changes in agro-environmental variables like soil organic carbon, erosion, and soil humidity hints that these are major factors influencing climate change resilience of the field crop, no direct relationship between these factors, crop yields, and changes in climate variables could be identified. This will need further detailed studies at the field and regional scale.

Author-supplied keywords

  • environmental change
  • soil health
  • sustainable agriculture

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  • Christian Folberth

  • Hong Yang

  • Thomas Gaiser

  • Junguo Liu

  • Xiuying Wang

  • Jimmy Williams

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