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Intra-seasonal risk of agriculturally-relevant weather extremes in West African Sudan Savanna

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Using household survey data and historical daily climate data for 29 communities across Upper East Ghana and Southwest Burkina Faso, we document climatic conditions deemed major threat to farming in the West African Sudan Savanna and assess risks posed by such conditions over the period 1997–2014. Based on farmers’ perception, it is found that drought, low rainfall, intense precipitation, flooding, erratic rainfall pattern, extremely high temperatures, delayed rains, and early cessation of rains are the major threats farmers face. Using first-order Markov chain model and relevant indices for monitoring weather extremes, it is discovered that climatic risk is a general inherent attribute of the rainy season in the study area. Due to recent changes in onset of rains and length of the rainy season, some farmers have either resorted to early planting of drought-hardy crops, late planting of drought-sensitive crops, or spreading of planting across the first 3 months of the season to moderate harm. Each of these planting decisions however has some risk implications. The months of May, June, and October are found to be more susceptible to relatively longer duration of dry and hot spells, while July, August, and September are found to be more susceptible to intense precipitation and flooding. To moderate harm from anticipated weather extremes, farmers need to adjust their cropping calendar, adopt appropriate crop varieties, and implement soil and water management practices. For policy makers and other stakeholders, we recommend the supply of timely and accurate weather forecasts to guide farmers in their seasonal cropping decisions and investment in/installation of low cost irrigation facilities to enhance the practice of supplemental irrigation.

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  2. We use “effective” to distinguish this index from the actual length of the season (May 1st to October 31st)

  3. We placed emphasis on detecting instances where minimum temperature was greater than the maximum, monthly rainfall was below 50 mm in June, July, August, and September, and rainfall regime (unimodal or bimodal) revealed by the extracted climate data

  4. According to the farmers, there is low rainfall when the volumes of rain received are far below their expectation and crops requirement, although they do fall. Drought on the other hand relates to receptive periods of readily evaporable volumes of rain or lack of rains.

  5. Conceptually, intense precipitation refers to the occurrence of high intensity (volume of) rains within a short period of time, while flooding refers to the consequent inundation/submergence of the area receiving such rains as a result of either the high impact (or succession of high and/or moderate intensity rains) or inappropriate percolation triggered by the crusted nature of the surface of soil in the area or poor drainage.

  6. Based on percent change in yields between good and bad years


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Support offered by Senior Researchers, Extension Officers, drivers and research assistants (especially Drs. William Fonta, Safietou Sanfo, Vincent N. Kyere, and Messrs. Aaron Aduna, Matthew Sulemana, Samuel Ayaburi, Baba Kunde, and Hermann Hien) is duly acknowledged and highly appreciated.


This study was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) through the West African Science Service Center for Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL).

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Correspondence to David Boansi.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest



Fig. 5
figure 5

Cropping calendar for major crops in study area. Source: Authors construct with data from household survey

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Boansi, D., Tambo, J.A. & Müller, M. Intra-seasonal risk of agriculturally-relevant weather extremes in West African Sudan Savanna. Theor Appl Climatol 135, 355–373 (2019).

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