Climate warming causes declines in crop yields and lowers school attendance rates in Central Africa

Although a number of recent studies suggest that climate associated shifts in agriculture are affecting social and economic systems, there have been relatively few studies of these effects in Africa. Such studies would be particularly useful in Central Africa, where the impacts of climate warming are predicted to be high but coincide with an area with low adaptive capacity. Focusing on plantain (Musa paradisiaca), we assess whether recent climate change has led to reduced yields. Analysis of annual temperature between 1950 and 2013 indicated a 0.8 °C temperature increase over this 63-year period – a trend that is also observed in monthly temperatures in the last twenty years. From 1991 to 2011, there was a 43% decrease in plantain productivity in Central Africa, which was explained by shifts in temperature (R2 = 0.68). This decline may have reduced rural household wealth and decreased parental investment in education. Over the past two decades, there was a six month decrease in the duration of school attendance, and the decline was tightly linked to plantain yield (R2 = 0.82). By 2080, mean annual temperature is expected to increase at least 2 °C in Central Africa, and our models predict a concomitant decrease of 39% in plantain yields and 51% in education outcomes, relative to the 1991 baseline. These predictions should be seen as a call-to-action for policy interventions such as farmer training programs to enhance the adaptive capacity of food production systems to mitigate impacts on rural income and education.