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Agricultural diversification for crop yield stability: a smallholder adaptation strategy to climate variability in Ethiopia


Climate variability threatens food system stability, particularly among smallholders in developing countries who depend on rainfed agriculture. Farm diversification could be a relevant adaptation strategy in this context as a greater number of species or a more even distribution of crops is postulated to have a stabilizing effect on farm output as compared to a homogeneous farm. In this study, we aimed to explore relationships between climate variability, agricultural diversity, and crop yield stability. We used agriculture-focused panel data from Ethiopian households surveyed over four waves from 2011 to 2018 and two climate datasets to derive measures of long- and short-term climate variability. In a twofold analytical approach, we used mixed effects models to separately model (i) farm richness and pastoralism prevalence with climate variability as predictors, and (ii) crop yield stability with diversity, farm input, and climate characteristics as predictors. We found that farm diversity is highest in areas with high temperature variability, or low rainfall variability. This held even when excluding pastoralist households, who have naturally lower diversity. We further showed that pastoralism is least common in areas with high temperature variability and low month-to-month rainfall variability. Both crop richness and crop evenness positively affected temporal yield stability, with each showing a greater effect than irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide usage. Together, these findings suggest that shifts in typical ranges of climate variability could destabilize farm-level crop yield for smallholders by limiting diversification opportunities. Our findings highlight the need for researchers and policymakers to consider not only the direct effects of climate variability on crop yield, but also its indirect effects on yield stability caused by increasingly limited adaptation choices.

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Data Availability

LSMS household data is available from CRU climate data is available from CHIRPS climate data is available from All other data is available from the authors upon reasonable request.


  1. As polynomial terms are only approximately orthogonal in Poisson mixed effects models, this is not necessarily indicative of the linear model with non-significant quadratic terms removed. To ensure model outcomes were similar, we refit the models with the non-significant quadratic terms removed. Statistical significance of \(p<0.05\) was maintained and signs of the estimates were the same for all but annual rain CV in the crop-only model. These results are reported separately (Supplementary Information S7-10).


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Correspondence to Joseph Menesch.

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Communicated by Prajal Pradhan

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Menesch, J., Godde, C., Venables, W. et al. Agricultural diversification for crop yield stability: a smallholder adaptation strategy to climate variability in Ethiopia. Reg Environ Change 23, 34 (2023).

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  • Agricultural diversity
  • Yield stability
  • Climate variability
  • Ethiopia
  • Smallholder farmers