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Shedding light on a hot topic, and what the future holds

December 22, 2015

Maize is the most widely cultivated crop in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and one of the few crops that have profound effects on the livelihoods of millions of people there.

To illustrate the point, sample these critical thresholds beyond and around the halfway mark:

  • more than half the cereal acreage is devoted to maize production in more than half of the SSA countries; and,
  • maize accounts for nearly half of the calories and protein intake in eastern and southern Africa, and for one-fifth of calories and protein intake in West Africa.

With the SSA population likely to double by 2050, maize production is facing a formidable challenge from biophysical and socioeconomic limitations. Climate change will further compound the crisis in maize production, undermining food security and poverty reduction in the region.

Although climate change is a global phenomenon, its impacts vary depending on region and season. In order to formulate appropriate adaptation options and to assure timely responses, we first need a better understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on maize yield and production at different spatial and temporal scales.

To help fill this gap for SSA, a forthcoming article in the International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management entitled Maize systems under climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: potential impacts on production and food security (early edition available online) assesses the baseline impact of climate change in a business-as-usual scenario. The study indicates that maize production and food security in most parts of SSA are likely to be severely crippled by climate change, although the projected impacts will vary across countries and regions.

Facts and figures from the study:

These results highlight the need for greater investment in maize research, particularly on developing maize varieties that tolerate both drought and heat in order to minimize or offset the inevitable impacts of climate change on maize production in sub-Saharan Africa and reduce food insecurity in the continent.

Climate change threatens maize production and food security in sub-Saharan Africa