In this post, the fourth in the series about the power of crop models to identify climate hotspots and climate opportunities, we consider cases in which we might receive mixed signals in particular areas from the crop models. As we have done previously, for the reader’s convenience, we show below the map that we presented in Part 2, to help us visually identify places discussed in this post.
For the purposes of this post, we will consider two types of mixed signals. The first is the case in which productivity declines for one crop, but increases for another crop. The second comes when the results for a single crop are inconsistent for different climate models (GCMs).
Situation 3: Change in Suitable Crops
An area might be a loser for one crop, and a gainer for another. These might be areas in red or dark orange for maize, that when compared to the same area for other crops, might be blues or greens. For example, areas that become too dry for maize might be great for millet or cowpeas or some other dryland crop. This would suggest a role for extension departments to help farmers become familiar with crops they have not previously cultivated. This would have to be done in conjunction with training on how to cook and serve these crops, since much of the country is subsistence, and households would likely consume at least a portion of what they produce.
A more complicated situation in terms of analysis and projecting to the future, and yet would have the same type of results, would be if the national and international prices shifted, making an area currently used for the crop to decline in profitability (rather than simply yield), while the profitability of a different crop might rise in profitability (either due to price increases or productivity increases). If the household is entirely subsistence oriented, price shifts would not necessarily impact their production choices, but if they participate as sellers in the market, it would have an impact.
Situation 4: Climate Models Give Conflicting Yield Projections
Sometimes the results from the crop models disagree between two different climate models. In such a case, it would be dangerous to overcommit to assuming one is true, because if the other turns out to be true, then harm could have been done. One thing agricultural research institutes could do is to create a menu of seed varieties for the landscape, some capable of growing well in one of the projected climates, and another able to do well in the alternative projected climate.
It is, however, important to keep in mind that even if one model disagrees with all the other models, it should be taken seriously as a possible future outcome.
If I were a policymaker and observed projections showing reasonably large areas of my country with projected losses in cultivatable land or significant yield declines, I would want the government in the future – those in government in 2050 when the climate impacts have been calculated – to have options to deal with such a state. New seeds suitable to the climate and newly developed agricultural technology could be the solution. But since seeds, in particular, can take a decade or more to be developed and tested, it would be important to invest now, so that there will be options available in the future. This tells me that it is not too early to increase investment agricultural research and extension units.
One must not forget the private sector. While there is plenty of room for public sector research, developing and bringing innovations to farmers is often done best by the private sector. Therefore, it would also be beneficial to develop policies to encourage private companies to enter the market to develop and market their own seeds, equipment, and other inputs.