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Heat stress will detrimentally impact future livestock production in East Africa

Abstract

Climate change-induced increases in temperature and humidity are predicted to impact East African food systems, but the extent to which heat stress negatively affects livestock production in this region is poorly understood. Here we use ERA‐Interim reanalysis data to show that the frequency of ‘Severe/Danger’ heat events for dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep, goats, swine and poultry significantly increased from 1981 to 2010. Using a multi-model ensemble of climate change projections for 2021–2050 and 2071–2100 (under representative concentration pathway (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5 by the coordinated regional-climate downscaling experiment for Africa (CORDEX-AFRICA)), we show that the frequency of dangerous heat-stress conditions and the average number of consecutive days with heat stress events will significantly increase, particularly for swine and poultry. Our assessment suggests that 4–19% of livestock production occurs in areas where dangerous heat stress events are likely to increase in frequency from 2071 to 2100. With demand for animal products predicted to grow in East Africa, production-specific heat-stress mitigation measures and breeding programmes for increasing heat tolerance are urgently needed for future livestock sector productivity—and future food security—in East Africa.

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Fig. 1: Average frequency of days with Severe/Danger heat stress per year.
Fig. 2: Trends in the percentage of days with Severe/Danger heat stress during the historical period.
Fig. 3: Scenarios of changes in the frequency of heat stress for future climate conditions.
Fig. 4: Scenarios of future changes in the number of consecutive days with Severe/Danger heat stress.
Fig. 5: Percentage of current livestock production challenged in the future due to heat stress.
Fig. 6: Scenarios of changes in heat stress in areas with intensive and extensive production systems.

Data availability

All the data products from this analysis are available upon request from the corresponding author.

Code availability

The analysis codes are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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Acknowledgements

This research was conducted as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund. CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by 15 research centres in close collaboration with hundreds of partners across the globe (www.CGIAR.org). Additional resources were received from the Helmholtz Society Program ‘Earth and Environment’. Additional support for K.B.B. was provided by the Programme for Climate-Smart Livestock (PCSL) funded by GIZ and commissioned by BMZ.

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J.R., J.Y.M., K.B.B. and A.M.O.N. conceived and designed the study. J.R. and J.Y.M. analysed data and performed the spatial analyses. J.R. wrote the first draft, and all authors contributed to further revisions.

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Correspondence to Jaber Rahimi.

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Peer review information Nature Food thanks Emma Archer, Jay Johnson and Veerasamy Sejian for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–28 and Tables 1–4.

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Rahimi, J., Mutua, J.Y., Notenbaert, A.M.O. et al. Heat stress will detrimentally impact future livestock production in East Africa. Nat Food 2, 88–96 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00226-8

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