Rainfall Patterns and Human Settlement in Tropical Africa and Asia Compared. Did African Farmers Face Greater Insecurity?
40 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2017
Date Written: January 2017
We explore a new dataset of annual and monthly district-level rainfall patterns to assess the longstanding idea that climatological conditions were more conducive to the development of dense rural populations in Asia than in Africa. We test whether there existed significant cross-regional differences in both the frequency and intensity of rainfall shocks (i.e. annual mean deviations exceeding one standard deviation). Our results confirm that rainfall shocks in tropical Africa were both more frequent and more severe. Second, we test the separate effects of precipitation levels and variability on district-level population densities from colonial population censuses. We hypothesize that higher mean levels of precipitation facilitate agricultural intensification and human settlement, while unpredictability of rainfall has the opposite effect. Controlling for average rainfall levels, we find a strong negative effect of rainfall variation on population densities. This study thus lends further support to a wide literature arguing that the ecological conditions of agricultural intensification were more challenging in the African than in the Asian tropics.
Keywords: Africa, agriculture, Asia, Climate, Settlement
JEL Classification: N55, N57, O13, O44
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