Evaluating Land Suitability and Potential Climate Change Impacts on Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) Production in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa with 35 million tropical livestock units. The livestock system relies on natural open grazing which is a ected by frequent droughts. However, little research exists that studies the suitability of the biophysical environment for fodder production and the risks due to climate change. The main objectives of the study are to evaluate the potential effects of climate change on land suitability for alfalfa production in Ethiopia and to assess the extent of irrigation requirements for alfalfa growing under the adverse climate change projections. The impact of climate change on land suitability for alfalfa was evaluated using projected changes in rainfall and temperature based on three global circulation models (CCSM4, HadGEM2-AO, and MIROC5). A multi-criteria evaluation in GIS that uses biophysical, climatic and topography factors was applied to identify the suitable land. The highly suitable area under current climate scenarios covered ~472,000 km2, while moderately suitable and marginally suitable covered ~397,000 km2 and ~16,200 km2, respectively. The projected climate alters the suitable land for fodder production across Ethiopia. Expansion of suitable land occurred in the highlands where climate scenarios predict an increase in temperature and precipitation. Dryland regions showed a rainfall deficit for the three model projections. The research provides guidelines for growing alfalfa in Ethiopia considering ecological and climatic variability.