- Joint Program Reprint
- Journal Article
Almost 25 percent of the world’s malnourished population lives in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and depends on maize (corn) for much of its caloric intake. The most widely produced crop by harvested area in SSA, maize is also highly sensitive to drought. Because maize in this region is grown largely on rain-fed rather than irrigated land, any future changes in precipitation patterns due to climate change could significantly impact crop yields. Assessing the likely magnitude and locations of such yield changes in the coming decades will be critical for decision-makers seeking to help their nations and regions adapt to climate change and minimize threats to food security and rural economies that are heavily dependent on agriculture.
Toward that end, a team of five researchers with the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change has applied a broad range of multi- and individual climate model ensembles to project climate-related changes to maize yields throughout most of the 21st century. Accounting for uncertainty in climate model parameters—which is pronounced in high-producing semiarid zones—the researchers project widespread yield losses in the Sahel region and Southern Africa, insignificant change in Central Africa, and sub-regional increases in East Africa and at the southern tip of the continent. The wide range of results highlights a need for risk management strategies that are adaptive and robust to uncertainty, such as the diversification of rural economies beyond the agricultural sector.
The results appear in the early online edition of the journal Earth’s Future. Funded by MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab as a two-year project, “Advancing Water and Food Sustainability through Improved Understanding of Uncertainties in Climate Change and Climate Variability,” the study’s principal investigators are Susan Solomon, Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; and Kenneth Strzepek, research scientist in the MIT Joint Program.