Climate change impacts on rainfed maize yields in Zambia under conventional and optimized crop management

Siatwiinda, Siatwiinda M.; Supit, Iwan; Hove, Bert van; Yerokun, Olusegun; Ros, Gerard H.; Vries, Wim de


Maize production in Zambia is characterized by significant yield gaps attributed to nutrient management and climate change threatens to widen these gaps unless agronomic management is optimized. Insights in the impacts of climate change on maize yields and the potential to mitigate negative impacts by crop management are currently lacking for Zambia. Using five Global Circulation models and the WOFOST crop model, we assessed climate change impacts on maize yields at a 0.5° × 0.5° spatial resolution for RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 scenarios. Impacts were assessed for the near future (2035-2066) and far future (2065-2096) in comparison with a reference period (1971-2001). The surface temperature and warm days (above 30 °C) are projected to increase strongly in the southern and western regions. Precipitation is expected to decline, except in the northern regions, whereas the number of wet days declines everywhere, shortening the growing season. The risk of crop failure in western and southern regions increases due to dry spells and heat stress, while crops in the northern regions will be threatened by flooding or waterlogging due to heavy precipitation. The simulated decline in the water-limited and water- and nutrient-limited maize yields varied from 15 to 20% in the near future and from 20 to 40% in the far future, mainly due to the expected temperature increases. Optimizing management by adjusting planting dates and maize variety selection can counteract these impacts by 6-29%. The existing gaps between water-limited and nutrient-limited maize yields are substantially larger than the expected yield decline due to climate change. Improved nutrient management is therefore crucial to boost maize production in Zambia.