Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Untapped crop data from Africa predicts corn peril if temperatures rise

Date:
March 14, 2011
Source:
Stanford University
Summary:
Researchers have found a valuable, untapped resource in historical data from crop yield trials conducted across sub-Saharan Africa. Combined with weather records, they show that yield losses would occur across 65 percent of maize-growing areas from a temperature rise of a single degree Celsius, even with sufficient water. Data from yield tests in other regions of the world could help predict changes in crop yields from climate change.

This is an experimental maize field managed by CIMMYT in Kiboko, Kenya.
Credit: Photo by David Lobell, Stanford University

A hidden trove of historical crop yield data from Africa shows that corn -- long believed to tolerate hot temperatures -- is a likely victim of global warming.

Stanford agricultural scientist David Lobell and researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) report in the inaugural issue of Nature Climate Change that a clear negative effect of warming on maize -- or corn -- production was evident in experimental crop trial data conducted in Africa by the organization and its partners from 1999 to 2007.

Led by Lobell, the researchers combined data from 20,000 trials in sub-Saharan Africa with weather data recorded at stations scattered across the region. They found that a temperature rise of a single degree Celsius would cause yield losses for 65 percent of the present maize-growing region in Africa -- provided the crops received the optimal amount of rainfall. Under drought conditions, the entire maize-growing region would suffer yield losses, with more than 75 percent of areas predicted to decline by at least 20 percent for 1 degree Celsius of warming.

"The pronounced effect of heat on maize was surprising because we assumed maize to be among the more heat-tolerant crops," said Marianne Banziger, co-author of the study and deputy director general for research at CIMMYT.

"Essentially, the longer a maize crop is exposed to temperatures above 30 C, or 86 F, the more the yield declines," she said. "The effect is even larger if drought and heat come together, which is expected to happen more frequently with climate change in Africa, Asia or Central America, and will pose an added challenge to meeting the increasing demand for staple crops on our planet."

Similar sources of information elsewhere in the developing world could improve crop forecasting for other vast regions where data has been lacking, according to Lobell, who is lead author of the paper describing the study.

"Projections of climate change impacts on food production have been hampered by not knowing exactly how crops fair when it gets hot," Lobell said. "This study helps to clear that issue up, at least for one important crop."

While the crop trials have been run for many years throughout Africa, to identify promising varieties for release to farmers, nobody had previously examined the weather at the trial sites and studied the effect of weather on the yields, said Lobell, who is an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science.

"These trials were organized for completely different purposes than studying the effect of climate change on the crops," he said. "They had a much shorter term goal, which was to get the overall best-performing strains into the hands of farmers growing maize under a broad range of conditions."

The data recorded at the yield testing sites did not include weather information. Instead, the researchers used data gathered from weather stations all over sub-Saharan Africa. Although the stations were operated by different organizations, all data collection was organized by the World Meteorological Organization, so the methods used were consistent.

Lobell then took the available weather data and interpolated between recording stations to infer what the weather would have been like at the test sites. By merging the weather and crop data, the researchers could examine climate impacts.

"It was like sending two friends on a blind date -- we weren't sure how it would go, but they really hit it off," Lobell said.

Previously, most research on climate change impacts on agriculture has had to rely on crop data from studies in the temperate regions of North America and Europe, which has been a problem.

"When you take a model that has been developed with data from one kind of environment, such as a temperate climate, and apply it to the rest of the world, there are lots of things that can go wrong" Lobell said, noting that much of the developing world lies in tropical or subtropical climates.

But he said many of the larger countries in the developing world, such as India, China and Brazil, which encompass a wide range of climates, are running yield testing programs that could be a source of comparable data. Private agribusiness companies are also increasingly doing crop testing in the tropics.

"We're hoping that with this clear demonstration of the value of this kind of data for assessing climate impacts on crops that others will either share or take a closer look themselves at their data for various crops," Lobell said.

"I think we may just be scratching the surface of what can be achieved by combining existing knowledge and data from the climate and agriculture communities. Hopefully this will help catalyze some more effort in this area."

Lobell is a Center Fellow at the Program on Food Security and the Environment, a joint program of Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. David B. Lobell, Marianne Bδnziger, Cosmos Magorokosho, Bindiganavile Vivek. Nonlinear heat effects on African maize as evidenced by historical yield trials. Nature Climate Change, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1043

Cite This Page:

Stanford University. "Untapped crop data from Africa predicts corn peril if temperatures rise." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110313160025.htm>.
Stanford University. (2011, March 14). Untapped crop data from Africa predicts corn peril if temperatures rise. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110313160025.htm
Stanford University. "Untapped crop data from Africa predicts corn peril if temperatures rise." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110313160025.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) — Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

AP (July 31, 2014) — With Florida's panther population rebounding, some ranchers complain the protected predators are once again killing their calves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Big Waves In Arctic Ocean Threaten Polar Ice

Big Waves In Arctic Ocean Threaten Polar Ice

Newsy (July 30, 2014) — Big waves in parts of the Arctic Ocean are unprecedented, mainly because they used to be covered in ice. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) — Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins