Patrick Laux, Seydou B. Traore, Moussa Sanon and Harald Kunstmann
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology


In sub-Saharan Africa, with its high rainfall variability and limited irrigation options, the crop planting date is a crucial tactical decision for farmers and therefore a major concern in agricultural decision making. To support decision making in rainfed agriculture, a new approach has been developed to optimize crop planting date. The General Large-Area Model for Annual Crops (GLAM) has been used for the first time to simulate maize yields in West Africa. It is used in combination with fuzzy logic rules to give more flexibility in crop planting date computation when compared with binary logic methods. A genetic algorithm is applied to calibrate the crop model and to optimize the planting dates at the end. The process for optimizing planting dates results in an ensemble of optimized planting rules. This principle of ensemble members leads to a time window of optimized planting dates for a single year and thereby potentially increases the willingness of farmers to adopt this approach. The optimized planting date (OPD) approach is compared with two well-established methods in sub-Saharan Africa. The results suggest earlier planting dates across Burkina Faso, ranging from 10 to 20 days for the northern and central part and less than 10 days for the southern part. With respect to the potential yields, the OPD approach indicates that an average increase in maize potential yield of around 20% could be obtained in water-limited regions in Burkina Faso. The implementation of the presented approach in agricultural decision support is expected to have the potential to improve agricultural risk management in these regions dominated by rainfed agriculture and characterized by high rainfall variability.