Because of the necessity of feeding growing populations, there is a critical need to assess the variation and vulnerability of crop yields to potential climate change. Databases of maize yields and climate variables in the maize growing seasons were used to assess the vulnerability of African maize yields to climate change and variability with different levels of management at country scale between 1961 and 2010. The ratios of time-series trends or standard deviations of detrended yield deviation and climate variables including temperature (Tmean), precipitation (P) and standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) were used to analyze the vulnerability of maize yields to climate change and variability for each country in Africa. Most countries, where soil fertility had been declining owing to low levels of fertilizer use over many years and limited water resources, had decreasing maize yields. The negative impacts of increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation and SPEI on maize yields progressively increased at the whole continent scale over the time period studied. During the maize growing seasons 1961–2010, each 1°C of Tmean increase resulted in yield losses of over 10% in eight countries and 5-10% in 10 countries, but yields increased by more than 5% in four relatively cool countries. Decreases of 10% average P resulted in more than 5% decreases in yields in 20 countries and each decrease of 0.5 SPEI resulted in over 30% losses of maize yields in 32 countries. Greater Tmean or P or SPEI variability in Africa may also bring about greater fluctuations in yield. In addition, countries with better management, which would be expected to have better yields, may be more vulnerable to yield losses due to adverse physical conditions. Better irrigation and fertilizer application will be important to sustain higher yields in the future, as will the development of maize varieties with greater heat and drought tolerance.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Akerele, D., Momoh, S., Aromolaran, A., Oguntona, C. B., & Shittu, A. (2013). Food insecurity and coping strategies in South-West Nigeria. Food Security, 5(3), 407–414.
Beguería, S., Vicente-Serrano, S. M., & Angulo, M. (2010). A multi-scalar global drought data set: the SPEIbase. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 91(10), 1351–1356.
Cairns, J., Hellin, J., Sonder, K., Araus, J., MacRobert, J., Thierfelder, C., et al. (2013). Adapting maize production to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa. Food Security, 5(3), 345–360.
Challinor, A., Wheeler, T., Garforth, C., Craufurd, P., & Kassam, A. (2007). Assessing the vulnerability of food crop systems in Africa to climate change. Climatic change, 83(3), 381–399.
Chuku, C. A., & Okoye, C. (2009). Increasing resilience and reducing vulnerability in sub-Saharan African agriculture: Strategies for risk coping and management. African Journal of Agricultural Research, 4(13), 1524–1535.
Conway, G., & Toenniessen, G. (1999). Feeding the world in the twenty-first century. Nature, 402(6761), 55.
Cooper, P., Dimes, J., Rao, K., Shapiro, B., Shiferaw, B., & Twomlow, S. (2008). Coping better with current climatic variability in the rain-fed farming systems of sub-Saharan Africa: An essential first step in adapting to future climate change? Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 126(1), 24–35.
FAO (2013). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) FAO Statistical Databases (FAOSTAT). Available at www.faostat.fao.org. Accessed March 20th 2013.
Harris, I., Jones, P. D., Osborn, T. J., & Lister, D. H. (2012). Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations – the CRU TS3.10 dataset. International Journal of Climatology, 34(3), 623–642.
IPCC. (2007). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jones, P. G., & Thornton, P. K. (2003). The potential impacts of climate change on maize production in Africa and Latin America in 2055. Global Environmental Change, 13(1), 51–59.
Kurukulasuriya, P., & Ajwad, M. I. (2007). Application of the Ricardian technique to estimate the impact of climate change on smallholder farming in Sri Lanka. Climatic Change, 81(1), 39–59.
Kurukulasuriya, P., Mendelsohn, R., Hassan, R., Benhin, J., Deressa, T., Diop, M., et al. (2006). Will African agriculture survive climate change? The World Bank Economic Review, 20(3), 367–388.
Lobell, D., & Field, C. (2007). Global scale climate-crop yield relationships and the impacts of recent warming. Environmental Research Letters, 2, 014002.
Lobell, D. B., Banziger, M., Magorokosho, C., & Vivek, B. (2011a). Nonlinear heat effects on African maize as evidenced by historical yield trials. Nature Climate Change, 1(1), 42–45.
Lobell, D. B., Burke, M. B., Tebaldi, C., Mastrandrea, M. D., Falcon, W. P., & Naylor, R. L. (2008). Prioritizing climate change adaptation needs for food security in 2030. Science, 319(5863), 607–610.
Lobell, D. B., Schlenker, W., & Costa-Roberts, J. (2011b). Climate trends and global crop production since 1980. Science, 333(6042), 616–620.
Müller, C., Cramer, W., Hare, W. L., & Lotze-Campen, H. (2011). Climate change risks for African agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(11), 4313–4315.
Marenya, P., Nkonya, E., Xiong, W., Deustua, J., & Kato, E. (2012). Which policy would work better for improved soil fertility management in sub-Saharan Africa, fertilizer subsidies or carbon credits? Agricultural Systems, 110, 162–172.
Monfreda, C., Ramankutty, N., & Foley, J. A. (2008). Farming the planet: 2. Geographic distribution of crop areas, yields, physiological types, and net primary production in the year 2000. Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 22(1). GB1022.
Müller, C. (2011). Agriculture: Harvesting from uncertainties. Nature Clim. Change, 1(5), 253–254.
Parry, M., Rosenzweig, C., Iglesias, A., Fischer, G., & Livermore, M. (1999). Climate change and world food security: A new assessment. Global Environmental Change, 9, Supplement, 1, S51–S67.
Parry, M., Rosenzweig, C., & Livermore, M. (2005). Climate change, global food supply and risk of hunger. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 360(1463), 2125–2138.
Parry, M. L., Rosenzweig, C., Iglesias, A., Livermore, M., & Fischer, G. (2004). Effects of climate change on global food production under SRES emissions and socio-economic scenarios. Global Environmental Change, 14(1), 53–67.
Potter, P., Ramankutty, N., Bennett, E. M., & Donner, S. D. (2010). Characterizing the spatial patterns of global fertilizer application and manure production. Earth Interactions, 14(2), 1–22.
Rosenzweig, C., & Parry, M. L. (1994). Potential impact of climate change on world food supply. Nature, 367(6459), 133–138.
Roudier, P., Sultan, B., Quirion, P., & Berg, A. (2011). The impact of future climate change on West African crop yields: What does the recent literature say? Global Environmental Change, 21(3), 1073–1083.
Sacks, W. J., Deryng, D., Foley, J. A., & Ramankutty, N. (2010). Crop planting dates: An analysis of global patterns. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 19(5), 607–620.
Schlenker, W., & Lobell, D. B. (2010). Robust negative impacts of climate change on African agriculture. Environmental Research Letters, 5, 014010.
Seo, S. N., Mendelsohn, R., Dinar, A., Hassan, R., & Kurukulasuriya, P. (2009). A Ricardian analysis of the distribution of climate change impacts on agriculture across agro-ecological zones in Africa. Environmental and Resource Economics, 43(3), 313–332.
Siebert, S., Döll, P., Hoogeveen, J., Faures, J., Frenken, K., & Feick, S. (2005). Development and validation of the global map of irrigation areas. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions, 2, 1299–1327.
Thornton, P. K., Jones, P. G., Alagarswamy, G., & Andresen, J. (2009). Spatial variation of crop yield response to climate change in East Africa. Global Environmental Change, 19(1), 54–65.
Thornton, P. K., Jones, P. G., Alagarswamy, G., Andresen, J., & Herrero, M. (2010). Adapting to climate change: Agricultural system and household impacts in East Africa. Agricultural Systems, 103(2), 73–82.
Thornton, P. K., Jones, P. G., Ericksen, P. J., & Challinor, A. J. (2011). Agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa in a 4 °C world. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 369(1934), 117–136.
Vicente-Serrano, S. M., Beguería, S., & López-Moreno, J. I. (2010a). A multiscalar drought index sensitive to global warming: The standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index. Journal of Climate, 23(7), 1696–1718.
Vicente-Serrano, S. M., Beguería, S., López-Moreno, J. I., Angulo, M., & El Kenawy, A. (2010b). A new global 0.5° gridded dataset (1901–2006) of a multiscalar drought index: Comparison with current drought index datasets based on the Palmer drought severity index. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 11(4), 1033–1043.
Waha, K., Müller, C., Bondeau, A., Dietrich, J., Kurukulasuriya, P., Heinke, J., et al. (2013). Adaptation to climate change through the choice of cropping system and sowing date in sub-Saharan Africa. Global Environmental Change, 23(1), 130–143.
Walker, N., & Schulze, R. (2008). Climate change impacts on agro-ecosystem sustainability across three climate regions in the maize belt of South Africa. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 124(1), 114–124.
Wichelns, D. (2003). Policy recommendations to enhance farm-level use of fertilizer and irrigation water in sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 23(2), 53–77.
You, L., Wood, S., & Wood-Sichra, U. (2009). Generating plausible crop distribution maps for Sub-Saharan Africa using a spatially disaggregated data fusion and optimization approach. Agricultural Systems, 99(2), 126–140.
This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41371002), the Project of Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (2012SJ003), the “Strategic Priority Research Program” of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Climate Change: Carbon Budget and Relevant Issues (XDA05090310), and the State Key Laboratory of Resources and Environmental Information System. We gratefully acknowledge the editor and the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments, suggestions and language revisions.
About this article
Cite this article
Shi, W., Tao, F. Vulnerability of African maize yield to climate change and variability during 1961–2010. Food Sec. 6, 471–481 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-014-0370-4
- Climate change
- Crop yield
- Food security
- Standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI)