Journal Article High spatial resolution seasonal crop yield forecasting for heterogeneous maize environments in Oromia, Ethiopia



Seasonal climate variability determines crop productivity in Ethiopia, where rainfed smallholder farming systems dominate in the agriculture production. Under such conditions, a functional and granular spatial yield forecasting system could provide risk management options for farmers and agricultural and policy experts, leading to greater economic and social benefits under highly variable environmental conditions. Yet, there are currently only a few forecasting systems to support early decision making for smallholder agriculture in developing countries such as Ethiopia. To address this challenge, a study was conducted to evaluate a seasonal crop yield forecast methodology implemented in the CCAFS Regional Agricultural Forecasting Toolbox (CRAFT). CRAFT is a software platform that can run pre-installed crop models and use the Climate Predictability Tool (CPT) to produce probabilistic crop yield forecasts with various lead times. Here we present data inputs, model calibration, evaluation, and yield forecast results, as well as limitations and assumptions made during forecasting maize yield. Simulations were conducted on a 0.083° or ∼ 10 km resolution grid using spatially variable soil, weather, maize hybrids, and crop management data as inputs for the Cropping System Model (CSM) of the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT). CRAFT combines gridded crop simulations and a multivariate statistical model to integrate the seasonal climate forecast for the crop yield forecasting. A statistical model was trained using 29 years (1991–2019) data on the Nino-3.4 Sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTA) as gridded predictors field and simulated maize yields as the predictand. After model calibration the regional aggregated hindcast simulation from 2015 to 2019 performed well (RMSE = 164 kg/ha). The yield forecasts in both the absolute and relative to the normal yield values were conducted for the 2020 season using different predictor fields and lead times from a grid cell to the national level. Yield forecast uncertainties were presented in terms of cumulative probability distributions. With reliable data and rigorous calibration, the study successfully demonstrated CRAFT’s ability and applicability in forecasting maize yield for smallholder farming systems. Future studies should re-evaluate and address the importance of the size of agricultural areas while comparing aggregated simulated yields with yield data collected from a fraction of the target area.