Timescales of transformational climate change adaptation in sub-Saharan African agriculture
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Climate change is projected to constitute a significant threat to food security if no adaptation actions are taken(1,2). Transformation of agricultural systems, for example switching crop types or moving out of agriculture, is projected to be necessary in some cases(3-5). However, little attention has been paid to the timing of these transformations. Here, we develop a temporal uncertainty framework using the CMIP5 ensemble to assess when and where cultivation of key crops in sub-Saharan Africa becomes unviable. We report potential transformational changes for all major crops during the twenty-first century, as climates shift and areas become unsuitable. For most crops, however, transformation is limited to small pockets (<15% of area), and only for beans, maize and banana is transformation more widespread (similar to 30% area for maize and banana, 60% for beans). We envisage three overlapping adaptation phases to enable projected transformational changes: an incremental adaptation phase focused on improvements to crops and management, a preparatory phase that establishes appropriate policies and enabling environments, and a transformational adaptation phase in which farmers substitute crops, explore alternative livelihoods strategies, or relocate. To best align policies with production triggers for no-regret actions, monitoring capacities to track farming systems as well as climate are needed.
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