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Adaptation of crop production to climate change by crop substitution


  • E. Eyshi Rezaei


  • T. Gaiser
  • S. Siebert
  • F. Ewert


Research on the impact of climate change on agricultural production has mainly focused on the effect of climate and its variability on individual crops, while the potential for adapting to climate change through crop substitution has received less attention. This is surprising because the proportions of individual crops in the total crop area have changed considerably over periods of time much shorter than those typically investigated in climate change studies. The flexibility of farmers to adapt to changing socioeconomic and environmental conditions by changing crop type may therefore also represent an alternative option to adapt to climate change. The objective of this case study was to investigate the potential of crop substitution as an adaptation strategy to climate change. We compared biomass yield and water use efficiency (WUE) of maize (Zea mays L) and pearl millet (Pennisetum americanum L.) grown in the semi-arid northeast of Iran for fodder production under present and potential future climatic conditions. Climate change projections for the baseline period 1970–2005 and two future time periods (2011–2030 and 2080–2099) from two emission scenarios (A2 and B1) and four general circulation models were downscaled to daily time steps using the Long Ashton Research Station-Weather Generator (LARS-WG5). Above-ground biomass was simulated for seven research sites with the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT 4.5) model which was calibrated and tested with independent experimental data from different field experiments in the region. The analysis of observations across all study locations showed an inverse relationship between temperature and biomass yield for both pearl millet and maize. Biomass yield was most sensitive to the duration of the phenological phase from floral initiation to end of leaf growth. For this phase we also found the highest negative correlation between mean temperature and biomass yield, which was more pronounced for pearl millet than for maize. This relationship was well reproduced by the crop model, justifying its use for the assessment. Due to the higher sensitivity of pearl millet to temperature increase, simulations suggest that the maximum benefit of crop substitution for biomass yield and WUE is to be gained for present-day conditions and would decline under future warming. The simulated increase in biomass yield due to substitution of maize by pearl millet was nevertheless larger than the yield decrease from potential climate change. Therefore, substituting maize by pearl millet should be considered as a measure for increasing fodder production in the investigated region. Differences in yields of crops that may substitute for each other because of similar use have been shown for other regions under current and potential future climatic conditions as well, so that we suggest that our findings are of general importance for climate change research. More research is required to quantify the effects for other crop combinations, regions, and interactions with other adaptation measures. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Suggested Citation

  • E. Eyshi Rezaei & T. Gaiser & S. Siebert & F. Ewert, 2015. "Adaptation of crop production to climate change by crop substitution," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 20(7), pages 1155-1174, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:masfgc:v:20:y:2015:i:7:p:1155-1174
    DOI: 10.1007/s11027-013-9528-1

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Liu, Suxia & Mo, Xingguo & Lin, Zhonghui & Xu, Yueqing & Ji, Jinjun & Wen, Gang & Richey, Jeff, 2010. "Crop yield responses to climate change in the Huang-Huai-Hai Plain of China," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 97(8), pages 1195-1209, August.
    2. Seo, S. Niggol & Mendelsohn, Robert, 2008. "An analysis of crop choice: Adapting to climate change in South American farms," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 109-116, August.
    3. Guo, Ruiping & Lin, Zhonghui & Mo, Xingguo & Yang, Chunlin, 2010. "Responses of crop yield and water use efficiency to climate change in the North China Plain," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 97(8), pages 1185-1194, August.
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    Adaptation; Climate change; Maize; Modeling; Pearl millet;


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