Feed the Future
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Screening Agricultural Practices for Adaptation to Climate Change in Mali and the Sahel

The African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program has researched agricultural practices that are responsive[1] to climate change and appropriate for farmers growing millet, maize, sorghum, rice, and other rain-fed crops in Mali and the Sahel. This research builds our understanding of the relative “adapted-ness” of different agricultural practices to possible future climate change conditions, which is helping the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), governments, and other development partners prioritize investments and design programs in the region.

Text box about climate modelsScreening Crops for Climate Suitability

The ability to model and project future rainfall trends in the Sahel is both complex and limited given current knowledge and methods. A recent ARCC climate analysis reviewed temperature and precipitation projections in the region. The study found that temperatures are likely to rise and that changes in other climate patterns (such as the frequency and intensity of rain events) are already affecting crop productivity and may decrease the suitability of some varieties. (See Box 1.)

Fifteen crops produced in the Sahel were paired with monthly temperature, precipitation and severe weather events to learn how changes in climate may impact crop productivity and to understand relative crop adaptability.[2] Crops produced in the Sahel have different responses to temperature and precipitation patterns, depending on their variety and the soil in which they grow. If crops cross certain thresholds of adaptability, however, productivity is likely to decline. Understanding crop adaptability to temperature versus rainfall versus extreme events can help in alerting policy makers of the potential loss (or gain) in crop revenues and food security due to climate change and in signaling the need for increased investment in long-term research to develop new varieties tolerant to anticipated growing conditions.

Identifying Adaptive Practices That Farmers Are Likely To Use[3]

Sahelian farmers continuously modify their agricultural practices to adapt to changes in climate and respond to forces such as market prices, local variety preferences and other socioeconomic factors. Many adaptive agricultural practices — those that respond to significant rainfall variability, low soil productivity, high temperatures and extreme weather — already exist in the Sahel. Adaptive practices fall into four general groups: moisture retention (bunds, earthen and permeable rock dams, zai holes [planting pits], contour ridges, etc.); supplemental water supply (drip and pump irrigation, earthen dams, bas fond, etc.); soil fertility (planted barriers, etc.); and temperature and wind abatement (e.g., sand dune stabilization and firebreaks). 

A study on the promotion and adoption of these practices looked at 30 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and 12 villages in Mali. The study found that the rate at which a particular practice is adopted appears to be associated with the resource intensity of the practice. Farmers tend to avoid practices that require higher levels of labor and technical knowledge and favor low-input practices that meet multiple production objectives, such as composting for soil fertility and moisture retention. Unfortunately, many of the practices that NGOs most commonly promote in Mali are among those with the lowest levels of adoption.

An evaluation of these four adaptive practices — contour ridges, zaiholes, bunds and vegetative filter strips — was modeled[4] in combination with four crops — millet, maize, sorghum and rice — and four soil types to understand their relative effectiveness in the context of projected climate change. Broadly, the study found that to be effective, each adaptive practice must be used with the appropriate crop, on the appropriate soil and slope and with the right climate conditions. While it is likely that climate change will increase the importance of these and similar adaptive practices, none of the evaluated water harvesting practices will serve as the universal solution to the challenges farmers can be expected to face in managing rainwater in the Sahel under projected climate conditions.

Photo credit: H.P. Liniger

Implications for Development Practitioners

Farmers in Mali and the Sahel are likely to need both new and improved crop varieties and production practices that improve resilience under hotter temperatures, more frequent droughts and high and low precipitation scenarios. By using climate science and targeted rapid assessments of crop lifecycle and production practices, development practitioners can identify a range of adaptive practices — many of which are already known — that support farmers to be resilient and flexible in various possible climate futures.

By Leif Kindberg, deputy chief of party, Knowledge Management and Learning, African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change Program (implemented by Tetra Tech ARD). Follow him on Twitter @leif.kindberg.

Sources:

Bapna, M.; McGray, H.; Mock G.; and Withey, L. (2009). “Enabling Adaptation: Priorities for Supporting the Rural Poor in a Changing Climate.” Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute.

Baptista, S.; Brottem, L.; de Sherbinin, A. et al. (2013). “Background Paper on Regional Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of West Africa.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Del Rio, A. and Simpson, B. (2014). “Agricultural Adaptation to Clime Change in the Sahel: A Review of Fifteen Crops Cultivated in the Sahel.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Del Rio, A. and Simpson, B. (2014). “Climate Change in Mali: Expected Impacts on Pests and Diseases Afflicting Selected Crops.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Folle, S. and Mulla, D. (2014). “Climate Change in Mali: Agricultural Adaptive Practices Impact Modeling Assessment—Summary Report.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

LaLumia, C. et al. (2014). “Climate Change in Mali: Organizational Survey and Focus Groups on Adaptive Practices.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Ray, M. and Simpson, B. (2014). “Agricultural Adaptation to Clime Change in the Sahel: Profiles of Agricultural Management Practices.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Ross, B.; Coop, L.; Jack, C.; Loveday, B. et al. (2013). “Background Report on the Status and Possible Evolution of Climate Projections in West Africa.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Simpson, B.M. (2014a). “Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change in the Sahel: An Approach to Evaluating the Performance of Agricultural Practices.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Simpson, B.M. (2014b). “Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change in the Sahel: An Approach to Conducting Phenological Screening.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Younan, M. and Simpson, B. (2014). “Climate Change in Mali: Expected Impacts on Pests and Diseases Afflicting Livestock.” African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) Program. United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

 



[1] The majority of crop-based agricultural technologies that have been developed and extended generally target [moisture or soil fertility] constraints and can be loosely clustered into three categories of responsive to climate stressors — moisture capture, supplemental water supply and soil fertility enhancement. (Simpson, 2014a)

[2] The methodology behind this study is available in An Approach to Conducting Phenological Screening. Other studies were conducted on the expected impacts of climate change on pests and diseases for selected crops and livestock.

[3] The approach taken to evaluate the performance of agricultural practices within a changing climate had three steps: (1) define potential future climate conditions to which agricultural practices will need to adapt, and estimate when these changes will occur; (2) identify the practices to be assessed and create an “adaptation profile” for each one; and (3) select or develop assessment procedures for the different classes of practices, and evaluate the responsiveness of those practices to the anticipated conditions under the various climate change scenarios identified in Step 1.

[4] The Agricultural Policy/Environmental Extender (APEX) model was used for this analysis.