Climate variability and change in Ethiopia : exploring impacts and adaptation options for cereal production

B.T. Kassie

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Key words: Climate change, Adaptation, Crop modelling, Uncertainty, Maize (Zea mays), Central Rift Valley.

Smallholder farmers in Ethiopia have been facing severe climate related hazards, in particular highly variable rainfall and severe droughts that negativelyaffect their livelihoods.Anticipated climate change is expected to aggravate some of the existing challenges and impose new risks beyond the range of current experiences. This study aimed at understanding current climate variability and future climate change and associated impacts, and providing insights on current climate risk management strategies and future adaptation options for adapting agriculture, in particular maize production.The study was conducted in the Central Rift Valley, which represents major cereal-based farming systems of the semi-arid environments of Ethiopia. A second case study area, Kobo Valley was also used for additional analysis in part of the study. Empirical statistical analyses, field survey methods, and a systems analytical approach, using field experimental data in combination with crop-climate simulation modelling were used to achieve the objectives of the study.Crop growth simulation modelling was carried out using two well-accepted crop models, which is an innovative feature of the methodology used in this thesis.

The analysis revealed that rainfall exhibited high inter-annual variability (coefficient of variation 15-40%) during the period 1977-2007 in the CRV. The mean annual temperature significantly increased with 0.12 to 0.54 oC per decade during 1977-2007. Projections for future climate suggested that annual rainfall will change by -40 to +10% and the annual temperature is expected to increase in the range of 1.4 to 4.1 oC by 2080s. Simulated water-limited yields are characterized by high inter-annual variability (coefficient of variation 36%) and about 60% of this variability is explained by the variation in growing season rainfall. Actual yields of maize in the CRV are only 28-30% of the simulated water-limited yield. Analysis of climate change scenarios showed that maize yield will decrease on average by 20% in the 2050s relative to a baseline climate due to an increase in temperature and a decrease in growing season rainfall. The negative impact of climate change is very likely, however, the extent of the negative impact has some uncertainties ranging from -2 to -29% depending on crop model and climate change scenario. From the selection of models used, it was concluded that General Circulation Models to assess future climate are the most important source of uncertainty in this study.

In response to perceived impacts, farm households are implementing various coping and adaptation strategies. The most important current adaptive strategies include crop selection, adjusting planting time, in situ moisture conservation and income diversification. Lack of affordable technologies, high costs for agricultural inputs, lack of reliable information on weather forecasts, and insecure land tenure systems were identified as limiting factors of farmers’ adaptive capacity. The crop model-based evaluation of future adaptation options indicates that increasing nitrogen fertilization, use of irrigation and changes in planting dates can compensate for some of the negative impacts of climate change on maize production. Developing more heat tolerant and high yielding new cultivars is critical to sustain crop production under future climate change. It was clear from the study that enabling strategies targeted at agricultural inputs, credit supply, market access and strengthening of local knowledge and information services need to become an integral part of government policies to assist farmers in adapting to the impacts of current climate variability and future climate change.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van Ittersum, Martin, Promotor
  • Rötter, R.P., Co-promotor
  • Hengsdijk, Huib, Co-promotor
  • Asseng, S., Co-promotor, External person
Award date11 Mar 2014
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789461738370
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • zea mays
  • maize
  • climatic change
  • climate adaptation
  • simulation models
  • uncertainty
  • ethiopia


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