Burkina Faso: Improved crop varieties

One option to help farmers increase the productivity of soil, water, nutrients and other resources is the genetic improvement of crops under stress and optimal growing conditions (IPCC, 2019; Searchinger et al., 2014; Voss-Fels et al., 2019). An improved or modern variety is a new variety of a plant species which produces higher yields, higher quality or provides better resistance to plant pests and diseases, while minimizing the pressure on the natural environment (Access to Seeds Index, 2020). Such modern varieties are genetically uniform, which means that their characteristics are constant within all individuals of that specific variety. The exact definition and requirements of improved varieties depend on a country’s legislation and international treaties (e.g. harmonized Seed Regulation adopted by ECOWAS). Improved varieties have, for example, higher tolerances to abiotic stressors, such as drought (Fisher et al., 2015), resistances to biotic stressors (e.g. diseases and pests), improved resource use or other changes that permit altering the agronomic management by, for example, needing shorter growing cycles. Along with labour saving technologies and flexible credits, locally adapted seed varieties are among the most needed inputs for farmers in Burkina Faso (Roncoli et al., 2001).

Improved crop varieties are a highly beneficial adaptation strategy in Burkina Faso. Furthermore, the cost-benefit analysis shows a very positive return on a rather small-scale investment (see Figure 1). Due to its positive impact on yield increase and stability as well as increased levels of nutrients, improved varieties can also help to decrease malnutrition and undernutrition. However, there are several factors, such as high prices of agricultural inputs, the insufficiency of logistical and financial support, the poor organization of the sector, the lack of motivation by seed producers to enter the market, the climatic risks associated with agricultural production and a decline in soil fertility, which impede the use of improved seeds by farmers. Besides that, insufficient agronomic knowledge or non-locally adapted varieties can lead to controversial effects and negative outcomes of this strategy.

To achieve the optimal adaptation effect of improved varieties, the following recommendations should be considered:

  • Ideally, improved varieties are promoted that fulfil several conditions, such as farmers’ preferences, local suitability, agronomic management and that are available and accessible for smallholder farmers. The sufficient supply of locally adapted good quality seeds on the local level should be, therefore, supported.
  • To promote a continuing process of innovation adoption, efforts should be directed to creating a seed sector that covers the overall process for improved seeds from plant breeding and pre-breeding to seed propagation, marketing and advisory, whilst focusing on farmers’ needs.
  • Knowledge transfer regarding the varieties’ potential and the best way to cultivate them can help farmers to use improved varieties.
  • For a profitable adoption it is necessary to ameliorate the functioning of the agricultural value chain including functioning infrastructure and agriculture markets to make agricultural inputs available and accessible.
  • It is also important to highlight the value of local landraces, as they are a pillar for safeguarding local traditions, agronomic practices and accompanying knowledge. Such a safeguarding of seeds and practices could be institutionalized by in-situ conservation projects, local seed banks, corporations with national or international gene banks and diversity fairs.
  • A better communication and interaction of seed sector stakeholders can help to improve seed and knowledge dissemination on a local, regional and national level.
Figure 1: Development of the net present value of switching to sorghum cultivation using ICV, Source: Own figure based on own calculations.


  • Access to Seeds Index. (2020). Definitions. https://www.accesstoseeds.org/definitions/
  • Fisher, M., Abate, T., Lunduka, R. W., Asnake, W., Alemayehu, Y., & Madulu, R. B. (2015). Drought tolerant maize for farmer adaptation to drought in sub-Saharan Africa: Determinants of adoption in eastern and southern Africa. Climate Change, 133(2), 283–299. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-015-1459-2
  • IPCC. (2019). Climate Change and Land: An IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • Ishikawa, H., Drabo, I., Joseph, B., Batieno, B., Muranaka, S., Fatokoun, C., & Boukar, O. (2020). Characteristics of farmers’ selection criteria for cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) varieties differ between north and south regions of Burkina Faso. Ex. Agric, 56(1), 94–103. https://doi.org/10.1017/S001447971900019X
  • Roncoli, C., Ingram, K., & Kirshen, P. (2001). (2001): The costs and risks of coping with drought: Livelihood impacts and farmers’ responses in Burkina Faso. Clim. Res., 19, 119–132. https://doi.org/10.3354/cr019119
  • Searchinger, T., Hanson, C., & Lacape, J.-M. (2014). Crop Breeding: Renewing the Global Commitment. WRI.
  • Voss-Fels, K. P., Stahl, A., Wittkop, B., Lichthardt, C., Nagler, S., Rose, T., Chen, T.-W., Zetzsche, H., Seddig, S., Baig, M. M., Ballvora, A., Frisch, M., Ross, E., Hayes, B. J., Hayden, M. J., Ordon, F., Leon, J., Kage, H., Friedt, W., … Snowdon, R. J. (2019). Breeding improves wheat productivity under contrasting agrochemical input levels. Nature Plants, 5(7), 706–714. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-019-0445-5

Burkina Faso: Integrated soil fertility management

Burkina Faso faces natural soil poverty as well as a continuous decline in soil fertility due to the overexploitation of land, soil and water resources caused by population growth and the corresponding demand for food. Poor management practices (e.g. bush burning) often result in soil erosion and the subsequent loss of topsoil, thereby further limiting land suitable for crop production (Nyamekye et al., 2018). The increasing occurrence of droughts presents an additional stressor for soils, contributing to land degradation and reduced soil fertility.

Integrated soil fertility management, commonly referred to as ISFM, can help to secure agricultural outputs under those conditions and has been promoted in Burkina Faso for several decades (Zougmoré et al., 2004). Considered a key factor in improving low soil and crop productivity in Africa, ISFM is defined as “a set of soil fertility management practices that necessarily include the use of fertiliser, organic inputs and improved germplasm, combined with the knowledge on how to adapt these practices to local conditions in aim of maximizing the agronomic use efficiency of the applied nutrients and improving crop productivity. All inputs need to be managed following sound agronomic principles” (Vanlauwe et al., 2010). ISFM is not characterised by specific field practices, but is “a fresh approach to combining available technologies in a manner that preserves soil quality while promoting its productivity” (Sanginga & Woomer, 2009). ISFM requires interventions to be aligned with prevalent biophysical and socio-economic conditions at farm and plot level (Vanlauwe et al., 2015). Typical for drylands, ISFM in Burkina Faso is based on the following objectives: 1) maximising water capture and decreasing runoff, 2) reducing water and wind erosion, 3) managing limited available organic resources and 4) strategically applying mineral fertilisers (Sanginga & Woomer, 2009). Suitable interventions include, for example, Zaï, half-moons, stone bunds, filter bunds, grass strips and mulching.

ISFM is a promising adaptation strategy under all future climate change scenarios, supporting the rehabilitation of soil where it is degraded and increasing the plant diversity in Burkina Faso. At present, ISFM is mostly used in central and northern Burkina Faso, however, the technology could be beneficial for all regions in the country to manage soil moisture and fertility, partly due to its rather small-scale initial investment. This is also reflected in the results of the cost-benefit analysis which show that implementing ISFM techniques would be beneficial for the farmers (see Figure 1).

The following recommendations can thus be given for Burkina Faso:

  • Awareness raising and training on the advantages and implementation of ISFM to support the effectiveness of this strategy which is relatively time consuming for farmers. The consideration of the technology in education and extension programs can also help to support the effective dissemination.
  • Policies towards sustainable land use intensification, as well as the rehabilitation of degraded soils and the necessary mechanisms to implement and evaluate these can help to promote the uptake of ISFM.
  • Research on innovative ISFM practices as well as the dissemination of the results can improve the effectiveness of the technology and further strengthen the adoption rate.
  • The public sector can play an important role in creating a platform for bringing together and linking key partners in research, education, extension, service providers, input providers, and farmers to facilitate farmer mobilisation and capacity development.
  • Policies that incentivise credit and loan schemes and subsidy programmes for the production of organic inputs could address the issue of lack of access to equipment and input.
Figure 1: Development of the net present value of switching to sorghum cultivation using ISFM, Source: Own figure based on own calculations.


  • Nyamekye, C., Thiel, M., Schönbrodt-Stitt, S., Zoungrana, B. J. B., & Amekudzi, L. K. (2018). Soil and Water Conservation in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Sustainability, 10(9), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10093182
  • Sanginga, N., & Woomer, P. L. (2009). Integrated Soil Fertility Management in Africa—Principles, Practices and Development Process. Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (TSBF-CIAT).
  • Vanlauwe, B., Bationo, A., Chianu, J., Giller, K. E., Merckx, R., Mokwunye, U., Ohiokpehai, O., Pypers, P., Tabo, R., Shepherd, K. D., Smaling, E. M. A., Woomer, P. L., & Sanginga, N. (2010). Integrated Soil Fertility Management: Operational Definition and Consequences for Implementation and Dissemination. Outlook on Agriculture, 39(1), 17–24. https://doi.org/10.5367/000000010791169998
  • Vanlauwe, B., Descheemaeker, K., Giller, K. E., Huising, J., Merckx, R., Nziguheba, G., Wendt, J., & Zingore, S. (2015). Integrated soil fertility management in sub-Saharan Africa: Unravelling local adaptation. Soil, 1, 491–508.
  • Zougmoré, R., Ouattara, K., Mando, A., & Ouattara, B. (2004). Rôle des nutriments dans le succès des techniques de conservation des eaux et des sols (cordons pierreux, bandes enherbées, zaï et demi lunes) au Burkina Faso. Science et Changements Planétaires/ Sécheresse, 15(1), 41–48.

Burkina Faso: Irrigation

The agricultural sector in Burkina Faso is heavily dependent on water from precipitation. Since precipitation is increasingly erratic, irrigation can help farmers to adapt to these changing conditions. Irrigation can be defined as the artificial process of applying water to crops or land in order to support plant growth. The FAO distinguishes between three types of irrigation: (1) surface irrigation, where water flows over the land; (2) sprinkler irrigation, where water is sprayed under pressure over the land; and (3) drip irrigation, where water is directly brought to the plant (FAO, 2001).

Irrigation is a promising adaptation strategy in Burkina Faso. Irrigation can help smallholder farmers to compensate for the negative impacts of erratic and insufficient precipitation and significantly stabilise agricultural production. The results of the cost-benefit analysis show that under both emissions scenarios switching from rainfed to irrigated production of maize has a positive return on investment (see Figure 1). However, water retention, which is essential for the used irrigation systems in Burkina Faso, is dependent on seasonal variation and specific location which influence the accessibility and effect of irrigation. Besides, irrigation requires a significant investment and only becomes profitable after some years, depending on the type of irrigation system and the farm location. Continuous institutional support is usually required and care has to be taken to avoid potential maladaptive outcomes from irrigation. Water use for irrigation has to be carefully managed to prevent groundwater table decrease and associated consequences.

Specific recommendations regarding irrigation in Burkina Faso are:

  • Low-cost irrigation options with low maintenance requirements can be promoted across Burkina Faso, where water resources are available.
  • Awareness raising about water-saving irrigation management is crucial to ensure a long-term responsible use of natural resources.
  • Ideally, water saving equipment, such as drip irrigation and smart irrigation systems, are promoted and supported by extension services to encourage farmers to use sustainable and environmentally responsible techniques.
  • Provision of support services is needed to ensure the ability of farmers to further operate the technology and take care of their maintenance.
  • For upscaling irrigation, all user interests in water and energy should be carefully considered. Dispute settlement mechanisms can be implemented to address potential conflicts between upstream and downstream users.
  • Developing financing mechanism, such as access to loans or credits, can support the accessibility for irrigation equipment.
Figure 1: Development of the net present value of switching to rainfed maize cultivation under supplementary irrigation, Source: Own figure based on own calculations.


  • FAO. (2001). Irrigation Manual: Planning, Development, Monitoring and Evaluation of Irrigated Agriculture with Farmer Participation. FAO.

Burkina Faso: Climate information

Information and knowledge exchange are key to managing climate risks and mitigating climate-related impacts on agricultural crops, water resources and food security. Climate information services (CIS) can help to bridge existing information and knowledge gaps. Tall (2013) defines CIS as a timely decision aide based on climate information that assists individuals and organisations to improve ex-ante planning, policy and practical decision-making. CIS thus include the production, translation, dissemination and use of climate information for different target audiences, usually in climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, water, health or disaster risk reduction (Carr, et al., 2020; Tall, 2013). According to Zongo et al. (2015), CIS usually provide seasonal estimates of the starting and ending dates of the rainy season, the length of the rainy season, the number of days with precipitation, the annual cumulative precipitation, and the average and maximum duration of dry spells during the rainy season.

Several studies have shown the positive impact of CIS on crop yields which underlines its great potential as an adaptation strategy. Having access to actionable climate information can help farmers to make informed decisions and thereby reduce the impact of climate risks. With a rather small-scale investment and its positive return, CIS represents a highly beneficial strategy. However, setting up well-functioning CIS requires high institutional and technical support.

Based on the literature review, multi-criteria assessment and CBA (see Figure 1), specific recommendations can be given to support the implementation of CIS:

  • Awareness raising campaigns can help to inform farmers and rural communities about the great advantage of CIS and gain trust in the information received. Trainings on CIS can help farmers and especially rural women to fully understand the communicated information and to be able to act on it. Ensuring that women and other minority groups have equal access to CIS can help to promote gender equality in agricultural production.
  • For now, existing communication channels (radio, television, word of mouth) represent the most effective way for CIS upscaling but new information channels (mobile phones, smartphones, internet-based devices) and sources are being developed throughout Burkina Faso and should be considered to reach maximum coverage.
  • Access to modern information and communication technology (e.g. smartphone, internet) should be supported.
  • CIS should be targeted to the various end-users needs. An analysis along the whole value chain and gender-disaggregated data can help to identify those needs and develop target-oriented formats and make communication more effective.
  • When disseminating information through CIS it is crucial to ensure timely and actionable communication in the local language(s) and effective use of e.g. visualisation and audio formats to overcome the access barrier for poor educated or illiterate people.
Figure 1: Development of the net present value of switching to rainfed maize cultivation using climate information, Source: Own figure based on own calculations.


  • Carr, E. R., Goble, R., Rosko, H. M., Vaughan, C., & Hansen, J. (2020). Identifying Climate Information Services Users and Their Needs in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review and Learning Agenda. Climate and Development, 12(1), 23–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/17565529.2019.1596061
  • Tall, A. (2013). What Do We Mean by Climate Services? WMO Bulletin.
  • Zongo, B., Diarra, A., Barbier, B., Zorom, M., Yacouba, H., & Dogot, T. (2015). Farmers’ Perception and Willingness to Pay for Climate Information in Burkina Faso. Journal of Agricultural Science, 8(1), 175. https://doi.org/10.5539/jas.v8n1p175

Ethiopia: Crop insurance

While most adaptation strategies seek to minimise risks stemming from climate change, not all risks can be eliminated. Weather perils, such as droughts, storms or erratic precipitation represent so-called systemic risks that go beyond the farmers’ or communities’ coping ability. Thus, mechanisms are needed that distribute risk to avoid that certain groups or individuals are particularly affected and lose their livelihoods. One of such risk transfer solutions is crop insurance, which allows farmers to insure their crop yields against weather-induced losses. It is also a risk-specific adaptation strategy, which becomes irrelevant in the absence of weather and climate risks. While insurance usually is based on indemnity-assessment, with smallholder farmers this model is problematic due to the high transaction costs such an insurance scheme entails, e.g. for claim disbursements. Thus, a more suitable approach for smallholder farmers are weather index-based insurances (WII), a scheme that uses a weather index, such as temperature or precipitation to determine a payout. Alternative index-based insurance schemes can also be useful, such as area-yield index insurance.

Index insurance schemes for crops and livestock have been developed and tested in several pilot schemes in Ethiopia, but are not widely implemented yet. There is continued interest and engagement from within the country to further promote insurance solutions for the agricultural sector. For example, the Japan International Agency for Cooperation (JICA) recently launched a new “Index-based Crop Insurance Promotion (ICIP) project” in 2019 together with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Oromia Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources (OBoANR) (JICA, 2019). The programme is expected to cover 20,000 farmers in the Oromia region over the next five years.

During expert and stakeholder interviews conducted for this study, there was wide consensus that crop and livestock insurance has a low uptake in Ethiopia as of yet, and is regarded as having only limited upscaling potential in the country. Accordingly, interest in insurance among interviewees, survey and workshop participants was low, which may, however, be rather an expression of difficult implementation of insurance schemes than of general lack of interest, as the in-depth interviews revealed. Thus, there appears to be a need for further research on how to effectively operationalise insurance in Ethiopia and how to ensure better uptake and sustainability.

Table 5: Potential co-benefits and maladaptive outcomes from crop insurance.

In sum, crop insurance can be considered an important adaptation strategy, because it can address risk, which cannot be mitigated in an economically sensible way with physical adaptation measures and acts as a safety net for farmers in times of extreme weather events. However, premium costs may not be affordable for farmers, requiring financial support in order to increase uptake.


  • Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). (2019). Index-based Insurance to benefit Small-holder Farmers through JICA Project. Retrieved June 13, 2019, from https://www.jica.go.jp/ ethiopia/english/office/topics/190419.html.

Ethiopia: Fodder and feed improvement

Fodder and feed improvement is regarded as a promising adaptation strategy that, according to interviewed experts, has high potential for upscaling in Ethiopia. Fodder and feed improvement is an umbrella term subsuming different strategies and technologies to improve nutritional quality, digestibility, quantity and availability of fodder and feed resources for livestock production. These include, for example, integration of pasture and forages into farm production, establishing fodder banks with improved forages and fodder trees, treatment of crop residues (e.g. with urea), silage and hay production, irrigation for production of off-season pasture and feed crops, improved grazing land resources management, increase of administering high-quality feed concentrate (Birhan & Adugna, 2014; Birhanu, Girma, & Puskur, 2017b).  

To improve fodder and feed, a number of adaptation strategies have proven successful in Ethiopia, for example: Improved and high-yielding forage varieties, intercropping grasses and cereals with legumes, cultivation of irrigated fodder banks, natural pasture improvement through removing of invasive weeds, temporal zero-grazing and cut-and-carry feeding regimes on degraded pastures to restore and increase carrying capacity. Such strategies can boost livestock production, resilience and farmer income. 

We conducted a cost-benefit analysis of one specific strategy to improve fodder for livestock in Ethiopia: irrigated Napier grass. Cultivating Napier grass and irrigating it was shown to be highly cost-effective. Importantly, the farmer’s investment in Napier grass will pay off after three years when the break-even point between net costs and net benefits is reached. It thus has a high and fast return to investment, as the following figure visualises. 

Figure 7: Net present value over time of switching from khat to Napier grass production in Ethiopia under climate change (in ETB).

While the examples above demonstrate the potential to increase livestock production even under a changing climate, the adoption of improved feed and fodder management strategies across the country so far remains rather low (Birhanu et al., 2017a), which was also confirmed by experts interviewed for this study. Yet, stakeholders and experts consistently expressed high interest in this measure throughout interviews, the survey and the workshop. In fact, due to the high importance and increasing policy awareness of this topic, experts interviewed see high upscaling potential for adoption of improved feed technologies in the country. Not all concrete strategies can be applied everywhere, irrigated Napier grass for instance may be difficult to implement in the lowland pastoralist and agro-pastoralist regions, but suitable strategies and improvements over the current practices can be found for all regions. 

However, several issues need to be addressed to achieve this goal. Insufficient financial means, lack of market access and infrastructure and limited capacity among extension agents to provide adequate information and training are common constraints to technology adoption in smallholder farming that also apply to livestock production (Gebremedhin, Ahmed, & Ehui, 2003).

Table 4 lists some key potential co-benefits or maladaptive outcomes that may accrue with improved fodder and feed. 

Table 4: Potential co-benefits and maladaptive outcomes from fodder and feed improvement.

All in all, we conclude that looking at this specific adaptation strategy, action is much more profitable than inaction, although other improved fodder and feed strategies or factors, such as prices would change the results. 


  • Birhan, M., & Adugna, T. (2014). Livestock feed resources assessment, constraints and improve-ment strategies in Ethiopia. Middle-East Journal For Scientific Research, 21(4), 616–622.
  • Birhanu, M. Y., Girma, A., & Puskur, R. (2017a). Determinants of success and intensity of livestock feed technologies use in Ethiopia: Evidence from a positive deviance perspective. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 115, 15–25.
  • Birhanu, M. Y., Girma, A., & Puskur, R. (2017b). Determinants of success and intensity of livestock feed technologies use in Ethiopia: Evidence from a positive deviance perspective. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 115, 15–25.
  • Gebremedhin, B., Ahmed, M., & Ehui, S. (2003). Determinants of adoption of improved forage technologies in crop-livestock mixed systems: Evidence from the highlands of Ethiopia. Retrieved from https://cgspace.cgiar.org/ handle/10568/27820.

Ethiopia: Agroforestry

Agroforestry is a complex field of interventions, comprising many different specific practices. In the climate risk analysis, we mainly considered the integration of trees in farming systems and tree-crop production. Agroforestry practices are considered as climate change adaptation for several reasons: Trees integrated in farming systems provide shade and thus lower temperature and enhance soil moisture, regulating the microclimate (Lasco, Delfino, & Espaldon, 2014). They generally save water, as they reduce evapotranspiration and improve soil fertility, for instance with falling leaves acting as mulch. Further, agroforestry systems can reduce pests and diseases. In terms of risk response, agroforestry systems are thus able to reduce risk from changing climatic conditions, such as rising temperatures and erratic precipitation. In addition, soil erosion can be lowered with targeted forestation, particularly on steep slopes.

An analysis of the effectiveness of agroforestry using a process-based crop model showed that agroforestry has the potential to stabilise maize yields in zones which are projected to experience yield losses under climate change (see Figure 5). 10 % or 20 % shade levels can reduce the losses projected (between 4-26 % in some zones), but would negatively affect yields in zones which are projected to benefit from climate change. However, those results are rather conservative, as they do not take into account the potential yield increases and other benefits of enhanced soil organic carbon due to agroforestry strategies, for instance. 

Figure 5: Effect of agroforestry shading on maize yield changes in Ethiopia.

The economic analysis showed that adapting maize production with agroforestry is very beneficial in comparison to the inaction scenario. Over time, it has a highly positive return on investment, with a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 5.1 and an internal rate of return (IRR) of 42.7 % (see Figure 6).  

Figure 6: Development of the net present value from 2020 to 2050 when switching from maize monoculture to maize production within an agroforestry system under future climate change impacts (in ETB).

Further, agroforestry practices offer scope for many development co-benefits, which are described in Table 3. 

Table 3: Potential co-benefits and maladaptive outcomes from agroforestry.

All in all, agroforestry appears to be one of the most promising adaptation strategies considered in the climate risk analysis, thanks to the many co-benefits it can offer, when implemented wisely. 


Lasco, R. D., Delfino, R. J. P., & Espaldon, M. L. O. (2014). Agroforestry systems: Helping small-holders adapt to climate risks while mitigating climate change. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(6), 825–833.

Ethiopia: Improved crop varieties

Improved crop management, such as using improved seeds, applying fertiliser and shifting the planting dates, has high transformative potential for increasing yields. We used process-based and machine learning techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of different crop management strategies for farmers to adapt to climate change. Our analysis found that increasing soil organic carbon in Ethiopia by 20% has positive effects on crop suitability for all crops (increasing suitability between 2-6%, depending on scenario and crop), especially for maize and wheat (see Figure 2). Enhancing organic carbon produces the greatest suitability increases under RCP8.5 for maize, teff and sorghum (ca. 5% suitability increase) and also has positive mitigation effects. However, shifting the growing season forward by four weeks will result in detrimental effects on suitability of the four crops (wheat, teff, maize and sorghum), with suitability losses of up to 10 % projected, and can thus not be recommended as an adaptation strategy.

Figure 2: Evaluation of crop management adaptation strategies in reducing crop suitability.

Using the process-based crop model APSIM, we also evaluated the effect of increasing first basal and then top dressing NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) fertiliser on maize yield in Ethiopia for all zones (All) and for zones projected to experience yield losses (Loss). Fertiliser application among smallholders in Ethiopia is estimated to be of rather low intensity, some 30-40% of smallholder farmers apply fertiliser (Spielman, Mekonnen & Alemu, 2011). Applying fertiliser is one means for improving lower and more variable yields due to climate change impacts and can thus also be regarded as an adaptation strategy. Yet, increasing synthetic nitrogen fertiliser application will also lead to higher CO2 emissions, a thorough assessment of its usefulness for each specific case is thus needed. The results show that increasing basal fertiliser by 50% will increase yields by between 10 and 200% depending on the zone. At national level, an average increase of 56% for all modelled zones under current climatic conditions is projected (Figure 3). 

Figure 3: Evaluation of the effect of increasing basal and top dressing fertiliser on maize yields in Ethiopia for all zones and for zones with projected yield losses.

We also conducted a cost-benefit analysis on one specific crop management strategy, namely a shift in cultivation from maize to sorghum, following the future suitability projections. The analysis shows that in comparison to the no adaptation scenario, the crop switch (adaptation scenario) will be economically beneficial from the year 2041 on (see Figure 4). From then on, the crop switch has a positive return on investment. The following figure shows this development of the net present value (NPV) from 2020 to 2050.

Figure 4: Development of the net present value of switching from maize to sorghum cultivation in Gambela under future climate change and over time (in ETB).

The late break-even point suggests that switching from maize to sorghum cannot be recommended in the near future, but rather in the medium term, once climate change impacts on the crop sector in Ethiopia further materialise. 

Table 2 provides an overview on potential development co-benefits and maladaptive outcomes of improved crop management in Ethiopia.

In conclusion, improved crop management can generally be recommended for adaptation to climate change in Ethiopia, although some strategies require ex-ante evaluation. Shifting planting dates for instance is not necessarily beneficial, but applying more (organic) fertiliser and investing in improved seeds can generally bring about better yields and higher resilience.


  • Spielman, D. J., Mekonnen, D. K., and Alemu, D. (2011). Seed, Fertilizer and Agricultural Extension in Ethiopia. IFPRI, ESSP II Working Paper 20.

Ethiopia: Irrigation

Irrigation can help smallholder farmers to compensate for the negative impacts of erratic and insufficient precipitation and significantly stabilise agricultural production (Woldemariam & Gecho, 2017). More specifically, it can raise agricultural production, allow for greater cropping intensity and crop diversity (i.e. higher-value crops), and lengthen agricultural seasons (Awulachew, 2010; Woldemariam & Gecho, 2017). Irrigation thus serves three main adaptive purposes: 1) Increasing yields by supplying water needed, 2) reducing risk due to a more constant water supply and 3) enabling multiple harvests and cultivation of high-value cash crops, as irrigation supplies water in the dry season. 

Currently, irrigation is not wide-spread yet in Ethiopia (estimates range between 2-3 % of agricultural land, with water coming from Ethiopia’s ample surface water resources), with considerable potential to upscale its usage. Stakeholder consultations, interviews, the expert survey conducted and document analysis made clear that irrigation is a key adaptation priority in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government is aiming to transform its agricultural sector from a subsistence mode to a market-oriented one. The potential for irrigation in Ethiopia is enormous, as it has ample surface water and groundwater resources on the one hand and land suitable for irrigation on the other hand (Woldemariam & Gecho, 2017). Twelve major river basins lie in Ethiopia, which form four main drainage systems. However, there is high spatial and temporal variability (FAO, 2005; Worqlul et al., 2015). According to various studies, there is sufficient water in Ethiopia to develop around 4.5 million hectares of agricultural land that could be irrigated through pump, gravity, pressure, underground water, water harvesting and other mechanisms (Makombe et al., 2011; Woldemariam & Gecho, 2017; Worqlul et al., 2017). The hydrological analysis in Chapter 2 also confirms this and projects ample water available for irrigation in the future.

A cost-benefit analysis of switching from rainfed maize production to irrigated maize production showed that adopting irrigation is beneficial for Ethiopian farmers. Over time, irrigation has a positive return on investment (see Figure 1).  

Figure 1: Development of the net present value from 2020 to 2050 when switching from rainfed to irrigated maize under future climate change impacts (in ETB).

Yet, irrigation requires a considerable investment and only becomes profitable after some years, depending on the type of irrigation system and the farm location. Institutional support is usually required and care has to be taken to avoid potential maladaptive outcomes from irrigation. Table 1 gives an overview of potential co-benefits and maladaptive outcomes from adaptation in Ethiopia. 

Table 1: Potential for co-benefits and maladaptive outcomes from irrigation.

Constraints to adaptation uptake in Ethiopia include weak institutional capacity and lack of physical infrastructures, such as pumps, conveyance structures and storage facilities, but also access to electricity in rural areas (Awulachew, 2010; FAO, 2015b; Worqlul et al., 2017).

Overall, irrigation is an important adaptation strategy in Ethiopia with large potential to transform the agricultural sector and increase yields. Government support and careful policy design is needed to make implementation succeed.

Note to the reader: This evaluation is only to be viewed as a careful model‐based and expert assessment, which can by no means replace a thorough analysis for specific project design and local implementation planning. It gives an indication of the overall feasibility and suitability of the selected adaptation strategies in Ethiopia. Actual selection of adaptation strategies, however, should always be based on specific needs and interests of local communities.


  • Awulachew, S. B. (2010). Irrigation potential in Ethiopia Constraints and opportunities for enhancing Irrigation potential in Ethiopia Constraints and opportunities for enhancing the system International Water Management Institute Teklu Erkossa and Regassa E . Namara. IWMI Research Report.
  • FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization), (2005). Irrigation in Africa in figures – AQUASTAT Survey 2005, 1–14.
  • FAO, (2015b): Analysis of price incentives for red sorghum in Ethiopia for the time period 2005-2012. Rome: FAO.
  • Makombe, G., Namara, R., Hagos, F., Awulachew, S. B., Ayana, M., & Bossio, D. (2011). A com-parative analysis of the technical efficiency of rain-fed and smallholder irrigation in Ethiopia. IWMI Working Papers (Vol. 143). https://doi.org/10.5337/2011.202.
  • Woldemariam, P., & Gecho, Y. (2017). Deter-minants of Small-Scale Irrigation Use: The Case of Boloso Sore District, Wolaita Zone, Southern Ethiopia. American Journal of Agri-culture and Forestry, 5(3), 49.
  • Worqlul, A. W., Collick, A. S., Rossiter, D. G., Langan, S., & Steenhuis, T. S. (2015). Assess-ment of surface water irrigation potential in the Ethiopian highlands: The Lake Tana Basin. Catena, 129, 76–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.catena.2015.02.020.
  • Worqlul, A. W., Jeong, J., Dile, Y. T., Osorio, J., Schmitter, P., Gerik, T., … Clark, N. (2017). Assessing potential land suitable for surface irrigation using groundwater in Ethiopia. Applied Geography, 85, 1–13.

Ghana: Improved crop varieties

Smallholder farmers in the global South mostly use traditional crop varieties, which can be vulnerable to climate impacts such as droughts, floods or also diseases. In order to improve the resilience of crops to climatic shocks and to raise yields, improved crop varieties are bred from traditional varieties. The process of breeding is lengthy and costly, but once better varieties are released and used, they can substantially improve agricultural yields and resilience, depending on their specific characteristics. As such, breeding improved varieties is an institution-led approach, since it requires resources and time, which smallholder farmers most often do not have.

Improved crop varieties can offer a number of interesting development co-benefits, especially linked to increased agricultural production and income. However, they are expensive to develop:  a multitude of factors will determine prices of the seeds, such as demand, scale of adoption, and – for farmers – potential government subsidies

A number of improved crop varieties already exist or are being developed in Ghana, for instance for maize, rice, cassava and cocoa, with sought-after properties being drought resistance, flood resistance and achievement of high yields. Maize appears to be the focus of breeding efforts in Ghana, as several publications (e.g. Alhassan, Salifu & Adebanji, 2016; Danso-Abbeam et al., 2017) and the number of active breeders for maize (10 out of 26) confirm (Mabaya et al., 2017).

An analysis conducted using the biophysical crop model APSIM shows that improved maize varieties indeed hold large potential for increasing yields under climate change (Figure 3). However, the size of the effect and sometimes even direction depends on the location, with the impact in different districts in Ghana differing considerably. Compared to no adaptation and other agronomic adaptation measures such as applying manure or delaying the sowing date, a carefully selected improved variety may indeed have a larger impact on increasing maize yields.

Table 1: Impact of agronomic adaptation measures on maize yield under climate change for three districts in Ghana (average yield projection for 2050 compared to 2006 baseline).

Another analysis conducted with machine-learning based crop suitability models shows how generally the effect of agronomic adaptation strategies varies considerably across crops. While maize and cassava appear to benefit from many agronomic adaptation strategies under climate change, for sorghum this is much more the case under the high-emission climate scenario (RCP8.5) and for groundnut, none of the adaptation strategies proposed has a positive effect.

Figure 3: Projected effects of different adaptation options on crop suitability for cassava, groundnut, maize and sorghum under RCP2.6 and RCP8.5. The adaptation options analysed are: a two-week shift in the growing season (beige), a four-week shift in the growing season (red), increasing soil organic carbon by 10% (brown), a combination of shifting the growing season by two weeks and increasing soil organic carbon by 10% (grey) and a combination of shifting the growing season by four weeks and enhancing soil organic carbon by 10% (mint).

Agronomic adaptation strategies and the use of improved seeds should thus be carefully evaluated for each specific region, crop and climate impact scenario. Nonetheless, improved crop varieties are seen as a transformative tool for buffering climate impacts in Ghanaian agriculture. Breeding is costly and time intensive, but where improved varieties already exist, they can contribute importantly to a higher agricultural output.


  • Alhassan, A., Salifu, H., & Adebanji, A. O., (2016). Discriminant analysis of farmers’ adoption of improved maize varieties in Wa Municipality, Upper West Region of Ghana. SpringerPlus, 5(1).
  • Danso-Abbeam, G., Bosiako, J. A., Ehiakpor, D. S., & Mabe, F. N., (2017). Adoption of improved maize variety among farm households in the northern region of Ghana. Cogent Economics and Finance, 5(1), 1–14.
  • Mabaya, E., Adzivor, S. Y., Wobil, J., & Mugoya, M., (2017). Ghana Brief 2017 – The African Seed Access Index, (December).