Rice yield stability compared to major food crops in West Africa
West Africa is one of the regions the most concerned with structural food and nutrition security. Consequently, agricultural development pathways and scenarios are under high scientific and political scrutiny in this region. Rice, as a rapidly growing staple plays a key role in the West African diet representing close to 40% of the total volume of cereal consumed in the region. In the context of the 2008 food price crisis several West African countries have since proclaimed rice self-sufficiency as a target. Here, we show that rice yields tend to be, on average over the entire region, less stable (by a range of 15%–30%) than that of alternative crops, possibly substitutable in diets. The regions where yields of alternative crops are more stable than those of rice correspond to the main climatic regions where these crops are grown: sorghum, millet in the Sahelian and Sudanian regions and tubers in the Guinean region. Rice yields are significantly less stable for 33% of the comparisons considered and are significantly more stable than any alternative crop for 15% of the comparisons in few areas without clear longitudinal patterns. Models accounting for climate variability explain up to 17% of the variance of the data and reveal that yield variability differences between rice and alternative crops tends to widen in the areas where the monsoon precipitation is more variable between-years. The highest levels of variability of rice yields compared to alternative crops are recorded in regions where the monsoon varies strongly between years. Our analysis advocates for an explicit account of yield stability in West African rice expansion scenarios and supply strategies.