Impact of historical climate variability on rice production in Mainland Southeast Asia across multiple scales

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Climate change is expected to put significant pressure on global food production. Although previous work has explored impacts of climate, management, and genetics on food production, additional research is needed to examine the effects of large-scale climate modes at local and regional scales. This study explores the impact of climate variability on rice yield in Mainland Southeast Asia from 1961 to 2017 at three different spatial scales: the whole Mainland Southeast Asia region, country-level (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam), and province-level for Vietnam. Annual rice yields over this period have nearly tripled with Vietnam experiencing the largest increases. Correlations between annual rice yield anomalies at the regional and country levels and climate data reveal clear influences of tropical climate variability associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and the Pacific Meridional Mode. At the provincial level in Vietnam, many provinces show similar correlation patterns for the spring-summer season of rice (e.g., a co-occurring La Niña and positive phase of the Pacific Meridional Mode in the preceding boreal winter and spring are associated with increased yields in spring-summer rice). However, the late summer-fall season rice yield anomalies show much weaker correlations with tropical climate patterns. Variations across provinces were also noted, particularly between the Red River and Mekong River Deltas. The history of this 56-year period, which included the Vietnam-American War and changes in land management policies, makes it challenging to disentangle the effects of climate variability and social factors on rice yields in these areas. However, these results highlight the importance of using a multidisciplinary and multiscale approach to help inform local and regional decision-making.

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