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Shifts in African crop climates by 2050, and the implications for crop improvement and genetic resources conservation

Published by:
Publication date
Number of Pages
Type of Publication:
Articles & Journals
Focus Region:
Sub-Saharan Africa
Focus Topic:
Climate / Weather / Environment
Nutrition / Food Systems
Type of Risk:
Weather & Climate related
Biological & environmental
Burke, M.; Lobell, D.; Guarino, L.
Stanford University, USA

Increased understanding of the substantial threat climate change poses to agriculture has not been met with a similarly improved understanding of how best to respond. Here we examine likely shifts in crop climates in Sub-Saharan Africa under climate change to 2050, and explore the implications for agricultural adaptation, with particular focus on identifying priorities in crop breeding and the conservation of crop genetic resources. We find that for three of Africa’s primary cereal crops – maize, millet, and sorghum – expected changes in growing season temperature are considerable and dwarf changes projected for precipitation, with the warmest recent temperatures on average cooler than almost 9 out of 10 expected observations by 2050. For the “novel” crop climates currently unrepresented in each country but likely extant there in 2050, we identify current analogs across the continent. The majority of African countries will have novel climates over at least half of their current crop area by 2050. Of these countries, 75% will have novel climates with analogs in the current climate of at least five other countries, suggesting that the international movement of germplasm will be necessary for adaptation. A more troubling set of countries – largely the hotter Sahelian countries – will have climates with few analogs for any crop. Finally, we identify countries, such as Sudan, Cameroon, and Nigeria, whose current crop areas are analogs to many future climates but that are poorly represented in major genebanks – promising locations in which to focus future genetic resource conservation efforts.