Optimal Sowing Windows under Rainfall Variability in Rainfed Agriculture in West Africa

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Climate change is exacerbating adverse impacts of water stress in rainfed agriculture. This paper seeks to identify safe sowing windows for smallholder farmers in the Sudanian region of West Africa (WA). We hypothesize that the traditional focus on the onset of the season to start sowing leads to crop losses in years of high rainfall intermittency. AquaCrop, an FAO crop model, is used to simulate the yield response of maize (Zea mays L.) to sowing dates ranging from the 1st of May to the 30th of November at 20 locations in WA. We find that sowing directly after the first rains carries a higher risk of water stress, hampering crop development due to insufficient buildup of soil water storage to overcome dry spells. Based on three years of data per station on average, we identify safe sowing windows across the Sudanian region that secure optimal yield in 97% of all cases. We find that delaying sowing to mid-June (savanna and western part of the region) and to July (semi-arid region) ensures optimal yields. Of the three commonly applied local onset approaches covered in our evaluation, only LO10mm (10 mm/day on four consecutive days) achieves a similar yield result. The advantage of the safe window approach is that it is accessible for smallholders, who in many cases do not have access to local rainfall information.
Original languageEnglish
Article number167
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • onset variability
  • false start
  • rainfall intermittency
  • AquaCrop

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