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How will East African maize yields respond to climate change and can agricultural development mitigate this response?

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We analyze the response of Kenyan maize yields to near-term climate change and explore potential mitigation options. We model county level yields as a function of rainfall and temperature during a period of increased regional warming and drying (1989–2008). We then do a counter factual analysis by comparing existing maize yields from 2000 to 2008 to what yields might have been if observed warming and drying trends had not occurred. We also examine maize yields based on projected 2026–2040 climate trends. Without the observed warming and drying trends, Eastern Kenya would have had an 8% increase in maize yields, which in turn would have led to a net production increase of 500,000 metric tons. In Western Kenya, the magnitude of change is higher but the relative changes in predicted values are smaller. If warming and drying trends continue, we expect future maize yields to decline by 11% in Eastern Kenya (vs. 7% in Western Kenya). We also examine whether these future losses might be offset through agricultural development. For that analysis, we use a household panel dataset (2000, 2005) with measurements of individual farm plot yields, inputs, and outputs. We find that under a scenario of aggressive adoption of hybrid seeds and fertilizer usage coupled with warming and drying trends, yields in Western Kenya might increase by 6% while those in Eastern Kenya could increase by 14%. This increase in yields might be larger if there is a corresponding increase in usage of drought-tolerant hybrids. However, wide prediction intervals across models highlight the uncertainty in these outcomes and scenarios.

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  1. We discuss the causes and evidence for this trend at length in section 1 (SP1) of the online supplemental material.

  2. We do not have accurate data for 2006.

  3. While data are collected at the farmer level, the division is the finest resolution at which we are able to geocode. The division is an administrative unit below the district. The yields used in the macro analysis are reported at the district level.

  4. The growth in yields estimated by Ariga and Jayne (2010) is higher than those given by official government statistics. Reasons for the difference in estimates are discussed in that paper.


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This work was primarily supported by USGS cooperative agreement #G14AC00042 and NASA grant #NNX16AM02G. Chris Funk is supported under the USGS Drivers of Drought program. Sari Blakeley provided valuable feedback on an earlier version of this paper. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers for their comments and critiques. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Frank Davenport.

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Davenport, F., Funk, C. & Galu, G. How will East African maize yields respond to climate change and can agricultural development mitigate this response?. Climatic Change 147, 491–506 (2018).

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