Drought-tolerant succulent plants as an alternative crop under future global warming scenarios in sub-Saharan Africa

28 August 2023

GCB - Bioenergy

Catherine E. Buckland, David S. G. Thomas, Jonas Jägermeyr, Christoph Müller, J. Andrew C. Smith GCB - Bioenergy doi.org/10.1111/gcbb.13095

View Journal Article / Working Paper

Globally, we are facing an emerging climate crisis, with impacts to be notably felt in semiarid regions across the world. Cultivation of drought-adapted succulent plants has been suggested as a nature-based solution that could: (i) reduce land degradation, (ii) increase agricultural diversification and provide both economic and environmentally sustainable income through derived bioproducts and bioenergy, (iii) help mitigate atmospheric CO2 emissions and (iv) increase soil sequestration of CO2. Identifying where succulents can grow and thrive is an important prerequisite for the advent of a sustainable alternative ‘bioeconomy’. Here, we first explore the viability of succulent cultivation in Africa under future climate projections to 2100 using species distribution modelling to identify climatic parameters of greatest importance and regions of environmental suitability. Minimum temperatures and temperature variability are shown to be key controls in defining the theoretical distribution of three succulent species explored, and under both current and future SSP5 8.5 projections, the conditions required for the growth of at least one of the species are met in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. These results are supplemented with an analysis of potentially available land for alternative succulent crop cultivation. In total, up to 1.5 billion ha could be considered ecophysiologically suitable and available for succulent cultivation due to projected declines in rangeland biomass and yields of traditional crops. These findings may serve to highlight new opportunities for farmers, governments and key stakeholders in the agriculture and energy sectors to invest in sustainable bioeconomic alternatives that deliver on environmental, social and economic goals.