Evidence of crop production losses in West Africa due to historical global warming in two crop models

Achieving food security goals in West Africa will depend on the capacity of the agricultural sector to feed the rapidly growing population and to moderate the adverse impacts of climate change. Indeed, a number of studies anticipate a reduction of the crop yield of the main staple food crops in the region in the coming decades due to global warming. Here, we found that crop production might have already been affected by climate change, with significant yield losses estimated in the historical past. We used a large ensemble of historical climate simulations derived from an atmospheric general circulation model and two process-based crop models, SARRA-H and CYGMA, to evaluate the effects of historical climate change on crop production in West Africa. We generated two ensembles of 100 historical simulations of yields of sorghum and millet corresponding to two climate conditions for each crop model. One ensemble is based on a realistic simulation of the actual climate, while the other is based on a climate simulation that does not account for human influences on climate systems (that is, the nonwarming counterfactual climate condition). We found that the last simulated decade, 2000–2009, is approximately 1°C warmer in West Africa in the ensemble accounting for human influences on climate, with more frequent heat and rainfall extremes. These altered climate conditions have led to regional average yield reductions of 10–20% for millet and 5–15% for sorghum in the two crop models. We found that the average annual production losses across West Africa in 2000–2009 associated with historical climate change, relative to a non-warming counterfactual condition (that is, pre-industrial climate), accounted for 2.33–4.02 billion USD for millet and 0.73–2.17 billion USD for sorghum. The estimates of production losses presented here can be a basis for the loss and damage associated with climate change to date and useful in estimating the costs of the adaptation of crop production systems in the region.