Maize Yields in Varying Rainfall Regimes and Cropping Systems Across Southern Africa: A Modelling Assessment

  • Siyabusa MkuhlaniEmail author
  • Walter Mupangwa
  • Isaiah Nyagumbo


Rainfall variability, which ultimately leads to climate change, is a major threat to smallholder agriculture. It affects time of sowing time and productivity, amongst other challenges. There is therefore need to evaluate the different strategies for their effectiveness in managing climate variability. This study assessed the effects of different strategies on sowing date, season length and maize yields under variable rainfall conditions. Maize (Zea mays L.) yield simulations for Southern Africa were conducted using the DSSAT model. Simulated conservation agriculture (CA)-based cropping systems included basins prepared early (CA-Basins early) and late (CA-Basins late), draught powered planter (CA-Direct seeder), ripper (CA-Ripper) and Dibble stick (CA-Dibble). Conventional systems were mouldboard ploughing early (CMP-early) and late (CMP-late). Rainfall seasons were classified into low, medium and high based on the total rainfall amount. Results showed that high-rainfall seasons were seeded earlier and had a greater season length compared to low rainfall seasons in drier agro-ecologies, translating to higher yields and vice versa. Reduced labour requirements and use of draught power, enabled early seeding of CA-ripper, direct seeder, basins early and CMP-early systems compared to CA-Basins late, Dibble stick and CMP-late systems. However, performance of cropping systems did not vary across season types suggesting that there was thus no evidence of higher yield advantages from CA technologies even during low rainfall seasons. This puts the merits of drought mitigation by CA technologies into doubt despite enabling early planting.


Conservation agriculture Conventional agriculture Semi-arid Planting date Season length 



The authors of this paper would like to acknowledge funding received from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research through the projects Integrating crop and livestock production for improved food security and livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe (ZimCLIFS) project number CSE/2010/022 and the Sustainable Intensification of MaizeLegume Systems in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project number CSE/2009/024. Further, we also acknowledge the financial support received through the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) through our CIMMYT colleagues Drs Clare Stirling and Santiago Ridaura. The authors also acknowledge Rumbidzai Matemba-Mutasa for advising on data analysis.


  1. Adamgbe, E. M., & Ujoh, F. (2013). Effect of variability in rainfall characteristics on maize yield in Gboko, Nigeria. Journal of Environmental Protection, 4(9), 881–887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akhtar, I., & Nazir, N. (2013). Effect of waterlogging and drought stress in plants. International Journal of Water Resources and Environmental Sciences, 2(2), 34–40.Google Scholar
  3. Aslam, M., Zamir, I., Afzal, I., Yaseen, M., Mubeen, M., & Shoaib, A. (2013). Drought tolerance in maize through Potassium: Drought stress, its effect on maize production and development of drought tolerance through potassium application. Cercetări Agronomice în Moldova, XLVI, 16.Google Scholar
  4. Bouba, T., et al. (2013). Effects of climate variability and climate change on crop production in southern Mali. European Journal of Agronomy, 49, 115–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cooper, P. J. M., et al. (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(1–2), 24–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dzotsi, K. A., et al. (2010). Modeling soil and plant phosphorus within DSSAT. Ecological Modelling, 221(23), 2839–2849. Available at: Scholar
  7. Fallis, A. (2013). Changes in extreme rainfall events in South Africa. Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling, 53(9), 1689–1699.Google Scholar
  8. Famba, S. I., et al. (2011). Conservation agriculture for increasing maize yield in vulnerable production systems in central Mozambique. In African Crop Science Proceedings (pp. 255–262). Kampala, Uganda: African Crop Science Society Conservation.Google Scholar
  9. Franke, A. C., Rufino, M. C., & Farrow, A. (2011). Characterisation of the impact zones and mandate areas in the N2Africa project. Report N2Africa Project, (1), 50.Google Scholar
  10. Jones, J. W., et al. (2003). The DSSAT cropping system model. European Journal of Agronomy, 18(3–4), 235–265. Available at: Scholar
  11. Kanyama-Phiri, G., et al. (2000). Towards integrated soil fertility management in Malawi: Incorporating participatory approaches in agricultural research. Managing Africa’s Soils, Working Paper 11.Google Scholar
  12. Leary, N., et al. (2013). Climate change and vulnerability and adaptation. J. P. Neil Leary, C. Conde, J. Kulkarni, A. Nyong, J. Adejuwon, V. Barros, I. Burton, & R. Lasco (Eds.), p. 922.Google Scholar
  13. Manuela, C., Soler, T., & Paulo, C. (2007). Application of the CSM-CERES-Maize model for planting date evaluation and yield forecasting for maize grown off-season in a subtropical environment. European Journal of Agronomy, 27, 165–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mashingaidze, N., et al. (2012). Crop yield and weed growth under conservation agriculture in semi-arid Zimbabwe. Soil & Tillage Research, 124, 102–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Masvaya, E., Mupangwa, W., & Twomlow, S. (2007). Rainfall variability impacts on farmers’ crop management strategies. Waternetonline.Ihe.Nl. Available at:
  16. Moriasi, D. N., et al. (2007). Model evaluation guidelines for systematic quantification of accuracy in watershed simulations. American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, 50(3), 885–900.Google Scholar
  17. Mpandeli, S., & Maponya, P. (2014). Constraints and challenges facing the small scale farmers in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Journal of Agricultural Science, 6(4), 135–143. Available at: Scholar
  18. Mugabe, F. T., & Banga, D. J. (2001). Assessment of the nitrogen requirements of planted maize (Zea mays L.) in the semi-arid areas of Zimbabwe. UNISWA Journals of Agriculture, 10, 5–11.Google Scholar
  19. Mugalavai, E. M., et al. (2008). Analysis of rainfall onset, cessation and length of growing season for western Kenya. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 148(6–7), 1123–1135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mulwa, C., et al. (2013). Characterization of Maize-Legume farming systems and household socio-economic and risk profiles in Malawi: Baseline survey report for the project: Sustainable Intensification of maize-legume Farming Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa, p. 125.Google Scholar
  21. Mupangwa, W., et al. (2016). Rainfall risk and the potential of reduced tillage systems to conserve soil water in semi-arid cropping systems of Southern Africa. AIMS Agriculture and Food, 1(1), 85–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mupangwa, W., & Jewitt, G. P. W. (2011). Simulating the impact of no-till systems on field water fluxes and maize productivity under semi-arid conditions. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 36(14–15), 1004–1011. Available at: Accessed March 10, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mupangwa, W., Twomlow, S., & Walker, S. (2015). Reduced tillage and nitrogen effects on soil water dynamics and maize (Zea mays L.) yield under semi-arid conditions. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, (February), 1–18. Available at:
  24. Ngongondo, C., et al. (2011). Evaluation of spatial and temporal characteristics of rainfall in Malawi: A case of data scarce region. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 106(1–2), 79–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Nyagumbo, I., et al. (2015). Maize yield effects of conservation agriculture based maize–legume cropping systems in contrasting agro-ecologies of Malawi and Mozambique. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems, 10705.Google Scholar
  26. Nyagumbo, I., et al. (2017). Labour and yield benefits from conservation agriculture practices across Southern Africa. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 150, 21–33. Available at:
  27. Nyamangara, J., et al. (2014). Effect of conservation agriculture on maize yield in the semi-arid areas of Zimbabwe. Experimental Agriculture, 50, 159–177. Available at: Scholar
  28. Nyamapfene, K. (1991). Soils of Zimbabwe. Harare, Zimbabwe: Nehanda Publishers (Pvt) Ltd.Google Scholar
  29. Raes, D., et al. (2004). Evaluation of first sowing dates recommended by criteria currently used in Zimbabwe. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 125, 177–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ramamasy, S., & Baas, S. (2007). Climate variability and change : Adaptation to drought in Bangladesh—A resource book and training guide. Rome, Italy.Google Scholar
  31. Rusinamhodzi, L., et al. (2011). A meta-analysis of long-term effects of conservation agriculture on maize grain yield under rain-fed conditions. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 31(4), 657–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Saruchera, M., & Matsungo, O. (2003). Understanding local perspectives: Participation of resource poor farmers in biotechnology-The Case of Wedza District of Zimnbabwe. Biotechnology and the Policy Process in Developing Countries, Background, p. 45. Available at:
  33. Shumba, E. M., Waddington, S. R., & Rukuni, M. (1992). Use of tine-tillage, with atrazine weed control, to permit earlier planting of maize by smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. Experimental Agriculture, 28(4), 443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. SIMLESA. (2010a). Manica: Sustainable intensification of maize-legume cropping systems for food security in eastern and southern Africa (SIMLESA). Exploratory Trial Protocol and Data Collection Sheets, Manica, Mozambique.Google Scholar
  35. SIMLESA. (2010b). Malawi Highlands: Sustainable intensification of maize-legume cropping systems for food security in eastern and southern Africa (SIMLESA). Exploratory Trial Protocol and Data Collection Sheets, Malawi.Google Scholar
  36. Siziba, S. (2007). Institute of Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences in the Tropics. University of Hohenheim.Google Scholar
  37. Stern, R., et al. (2005). Instat Tutorial, p. 40. Available at:
  38. Thierfelder, C., et al. (2016). Evaluating manual conservation agriculture systems in Southern Africa. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 222, 112–124. Available at: Scholar
  39. Thierfelder, C., & Wall, P. (2009). Investigating conservation agriculture systems in Zambia and Zimbabwe to mitigate future effects of climate change. In African Crop Science Conference. African Crop Science Society, pp. 303–307.Google Scholar
  40. Thomas, D. S. G., et al. (2007). Adaptation to climate change and variability: Farmer responses to intra-seasonal precipitation trends in South Africa. Climate Change, 83(3), 301–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tsimba, R., et al. (2013). The effect of planting date on maize grain yields and yield components. Field Crops Research, 150, 135–144. Available at: Scholar
  42. Twomlow, S., et al. (2008). Precision conservation agriculture for vulnerable farmers in low-potential zones. In 9th WaterNet/WARFSA/GWP-SA Annual Symposium, Johannesburg, South Africa, 29–31 October 2008. Amsterdam, Netherlands: WaterNet. Johannesburg, South Africa: WaterNet.Google Scholar
  43. Valdivia, C., & Quiroz, R. (2003). Coping and adapting to increased climate variability in the Andes. In American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, pp. 1–28.Google Scholar
  44. Vincent, V., & Thomas, R. G. (1960). An agricultural survey of Southern Rhodesia: Part I: The agroecological survey. Salisbury, Zimbabwe: Government Printers.Google Scholar
  45. VSN. (2002). GenStat for Windows (6th edn.). Available at:
  46. Waddington, S., et al. (1991). Extent and causes of low yield in maize planted late by smallholder farmers in sub humid areas of Zimbabwe. Farming Systems Bulletin Eastern and Southern Africa, No. 9. CIMMYT, Mexico City, (9), 15–30.Google Scholar
  47. Wall, P. C., et al. (2013). Conservation agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa. In R. A. Jat & J. G. de Silva (Eds.), Conservation agriculture: Global prospects and challenges (pp. 263–292). Cambridge, USA: CABI publishing.Google Scholar
  48. White, J. W., et al. (2011). Methodologies for simulating impacts of climate change on crop production. Field Crops Research, 124, 357–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Woldemariam, H. H., et al. (2012). Characterization of maize-legume farming systems and farm households in Mozambique: Analysis of technology choice, resource use, gender, risk management, food security and poverty profiles. Zimbabwe: Harare.Google Scholar
  50. Xu, Q., et al. (2012). Effects of rainfall on soil moisture and water movement in a subalpine dark coniferous forest in Southwestern China. Hydrological Processes, 26(25), 3800–3809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Xu, Z., & Zhou, G. (2011). Responses of photosynthetic capacity to soil moisture gradient in perennial rhizome grass and perennial bunchgrass. BMC Plant Biology, 11(1), 21. Available at: Scholar
  52. ZCATF. (2009). Farming for the future: A guide to conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe. Harare: Zimbabwe Conservation Agriculture Task Force.Google Scholar
  53. ZIMSTAT. (2012). Census 2012: Preliminary report. Zimbabwe: Harare.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Siyabusa Mkuhlani
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Walter Mupangwa
    • 1
  • Isaiah Nyagumbo
    • 1
  1. 1.CIMMYT, International Maize and Wheat Improvement CentreHarareZimbabwe
  2. 2.Climate Systems Analysis Group, Department of Geography and Environmental ScienceUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations