Sensitivity of cropping patterns in Africa to transient climate change
The detailed analysis of current cropping areas in Africa presented here reveals significant climate sensitivities of cropland density and distribution across a variety of agro-ecosystems. Based on empirical climate-cropland relationships, cropland density responds positively to increases in precipitation in semi-arid and arid zones of the sub-tropics and warmer temperatures in higher elevations. As a result, marginal increases in seasonal precipitation lead to denser cropping areas in arid and semi-arid regions. Warmer temperatures, on the other hand, tend to decrease the probability of cropping in most parts of Africa (the opposite is true for increases in rainfall and decreases in temperatures relative to current conditions). Despite discrepancies and uncertainties in climate model output, the analysis suggests that cropland area in Africa is likely to decrease significantly in response to transient changes in climate. The continent is expected to have lost on average 4.1 percent of its cropland by 2039, and 18.4 percent is likely to have disappeared by the end of the century. In some regions of Africa the losses in cropland area are likely to occur at a much faster rate, with northern and eastern Africa losing up to 15 percent of their current cropland area within the next 30 years or so. Gains in cropland area in western and southern Africa due to projected increases in precipitation during the earlier portions of the century will be offset by losses later on. In conjunction with existing challenges in the agricultural sector in Africa, these findings demand sound policies to manage existing agricultural lands and the productivity of cropping systems.
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