• Non-ICIMOD publication


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Complex drought patterns robustly explain global yield loss for major crops

  • Monia Santini
  • Sergio Noce
  • Marta Antonelli
  • Luca Caporaso
  • Summary

Multi-purpose crops as maize, rice, soybean, and wheat are key in the debate concerning food, land, water and energy security and sustainability. While strong evidence exists on the effects of climate variability on the production of these crops, so far multifaceted attributes of droughts—magnitude, frequency, duration, and timing—have been tackled mainly separately, for a limited part of the cropping season, or over small regions. Here, a more comprehensive assessment is provided on how droughts with their complex patterns—given by their compound attributes—are consistently related to negative impacts on crop yield on a global scale. Magnitude and frequency of both climate and yield variability are jointly analysed from 1981 to 2016 considering multiscale droughts, i.e., dry conditions occurring with different durations and timings along the whole farming season, through two analogous and standardized indicators enabling comparison among crops, countries, and years. Mainly winter wheat and then spring wheat, soybean and the main maize’s season reveal high susceptibility of yield under more complex drought patterns than previously assessed. The second maize’s season and rice present less marked and more uncertain results, respectively. Overall, southern and eastern Europe, the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa presents multi-crop susceptibility, with eastern Europe, Middle East and Central Asia appearing critical regions for the most vulnerable crop, which is wheat. Finally, yield losses for wheat and soybean clearly worsen when moving from moderate to extreme multiscale droughts.