What aspects of future rainfall changes matter for crop yields in West Africa?
How rainfall arrives, in terms of its frequency, intensity and the timing and duration of rainy season, may have a large influence on rainfed agriculture. However, a thorough assessment of these effects is largely missing. This study combines a new synthetic rainfall model and two independently-validated crop models (APSIM and SARRA-H) to assess sorghum yield response to possible shifts in seasonal rainfall characteristics in West Africa. We find that shifts in total rainfall amount primarily drive the rainfall-related crop yield change, with less relevance to intra-seasonal rainfall features. However, dry regions (total annual rainfall below 500 mm/year) have a high sensitivity to rainfall frequency and intensity, and more intense rainfall events have greater benefits for crop yield than more frequent rainfall. Delayed monsoon onset may negatively impact yields. Our study implies that future changes in seasonal rainfall characteristics should be considered in designing specific crop adaptations in West Africa.