Agricultural development, ecosystems and their services

Insights from Agent-Based Modeling in the Indus, Mekong and Niger basins 

The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) in conjunction with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and partners is promoting a new approach to sustainable intensification in which healthy functioning ecosystems are seen as a prerequisite to agricultural development, food security and human well-being. Many of these ecosystems are water-based or water-related, and water-related ecosystems are also those most threatened by both human interventions and climate change.

Current water planning models are not equipped to adequately assess the interactions of ecosystems and economic development. If ecosystems are considered at all in these models, they are generally relegated to minimum flow constraints.

In this project, we use an agent-based modeling (ABM) approach to define key water- and related ecosystem services as active agents and let them ‘speak for themselves’. We then couple these agent based models with basin-scale hydrologic models to model basins as coupled human-natural systems. Agent-based modeling (ABM) differs from conventional modeling techniques, which often ignore heterogeneity among water users, assume an omniscient decision-maker and only consider ecosystems as constraints rather than active agents and benefit providers.

We will work in three focal regions and river basins under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE): the Mekong, the Niger and the Indus.

We will assess the following policy analysis questions:

1) Which ecosystems and their services are most valued by basin stakeholders?
2) What are the tradeoffs between key planned development interventions and ecosystem outcomes in the three study basins?
3) How can we maintain functioning ecosystems in the basins while doubling agricultural productivity?

We will also tackle the following research questions:

1) Can gendered analysis be added into a river basin model?
2) How can we model ecosystems as active agents in agent-based models of large river systems?
3) How can we couple agent-based with hydrological models for optimal assessment of ecosystem feedbacks?
4) How can we develop an online user interface for those policymakers who do not wish to run complex modeling tools?

Core partners


Locations and background information of three WLE focal regions: the Niger, Indus and Mekong basins.