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Publication | 2022

Extreme events and production shocks for key crops in southern Africa under climate change

Many studies have estimated the effect of climate change on crop productivity, often reflecting uncertainty about future climates by using more than one emissions pathway or multiple climate models, usually fewer than 30, and generally much fewer, with focus on the mean changes. Here we examine four emissions scenarios with 720,000 future climates per scenario over a 50-year period. We focus on the effect of low-frequency, high-impact weather events on crop yields in 10 countries of Southern Africa, aggregating from nearly 9,000 25-kilometer-square locations. In the highest emissions scenario, median maize yield is projected to fall by 9.2% for the region while the 5th percentile is projected to fall by 15.6% between the 2020s and 2060s. Furthermore, the frequency of a low frequency, 1-in-20-year low-yield event for rainfed maize is likely to occur every 3.5 years by the 2060s under the high emissions scenario. We also examine the impact of climate change on three other crops of considerable importance to the region: drybeans, groundnuts, and soybeans. Projected yield decline for each of these crops is less than for maize, but the impact varies from country to country and within each country. In many cases, the median losses are modest, but the losses in the bad weather years are generally much higher than under current climate, pointing to more frequent bouts with food insecurity for the region, unless investments are made to compensate for those production shocks.