In sub-Saharan Africa, a successful harvest can be the difference between life and death.

Research by Professor Peter Dorward and a team at the University of Reading is supporting vulnerable farming communities to make critical decisions to improve their food production.

Farmers in several countries across sub-Saharan Africa have been using techniques developed at the University of Reading to decide what to plant, giving them the best chances of a successful harvest. The work uses climate, crop, livestock and livelihood information to inform local farmers, helping them to assess the risks and make better-informed decisions on their farming.

Two-thirds of people in this region depend on small-scale, rain-fed farming as their main source of income. Critical farming decisions depend on variables such as how much rain falls and the timing of dry spells. These vary considerably from year to year, making decision-making harder.

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Using this new approach, Selina Sellas, a farmer and mother from the village of Makoja, Tanzania, calculated that she could lose her maize harvest 7 out of 10 times because of insufficient rainfall. As a result, she planted less maize and has introduced more drought-resistant crops. This reduces the risk of harvest failure, which would have a big impact on her and her family. It’s great to see how our research is giving vulnerable people the tools and information they need for decision-making.

Professor Peter Dorward, School of Agriculture Policy & Development
University of Reading