Simulation modeling for foresight analysis and ex-ante impact assessment in potato and sweetpotato

Is it possible to use large scale agricultural simulation models for the analysis of crops like potatoes and sweetpotatoes?

Yes! The Global Futures for Agriculture and Strategic Foresight (GFSF) project, which has the objective of developing and applying an integrated simulation modeling framework for the comprehensive analysis of trends and technology impacts in the CGIAR mandate crops and systems, is doing exactly this. At least the part of this research collaboration of all in all 12 centers of the CGIAR which is taking place at the International Potato Center (CIP), as was explained in a seminar held on 24 April 2014 at the CIP Headquarters in Lima.

The core component of the modeling framework developed in the project is the International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT), an economic partial equilibrium model of the world agricultural sector. IMPACT has the capability of generating forward looking global analyses of supply, demand, prices and trade of 56 agricultural commodities in 320 geographic regions, taking into account major drivers like

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Rather very far foresight

This blog is about foresight. And here is a nice site on foresight of the more ambitious kind: Centauri Dreams – Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration.

Thinking in the long run, Earth may be hit by a asteroide of the size that wiped out the dinosaurs approximately every 100 million years (at least according to that not so well documented source I just found). For this reason alone, not to speak about any other adverse factors that might put the survival of our human race into jeopardy, moving out to other planets might be a reasonable strategy of risk diversification. We might be well advised to dedicate at least a little bit of time to reflecting about these issues.

Or, to say it with the blog:

Ultimately, the challenge may be as much philosophical as technological: to reassert the value of the long haul in a time of jittery short-term thinking.


Dragon Kings and the predictability of crises

In a TED talk “How we can predict the next financial crisis”, ETH socio-physicist Didier Sornette discusses the possibility of the prediction of extreme events in complex social or biophysical systems and presents examples where this is possible, and how.

His argument is based on the notion that extreme events – termed “dragon kings” – are preceded by specific warning signs that are the outcomes of processes like super-exponential growth that take place in dynamical and complex systems. Therefore, such extreme events that often manifest themselves as crashes and crises are essentially predictable.


It goes without saying that the presentation is far too short. It therefore should be regarded as an invitation to diving deeper into the work by Sornette and his colleagues.

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Interfacing GAMS and R

GAMS is perhaps THE programming language for developing and running optimization models. R is an excellent and efficient tool for analysing data, including producing attractive graphs.

A tool for combining the two is provided with GDXRRW. GDXRRW acts as an interface between GAMS and R and offers facilities for the transfer of data between GDX and R and a function to call GAMS from within R.

A presentation by Dirkse et al. gives an introduction to the use of GDXRRW.




Graph of the year 2013: Proportion of calories delivered as food

Although already well into 2014, here is my personal “Graph of the Year 2013”: The proportion of produced calories that are delivered to the food system.


Source: Cassidy et al., Environm. Res. Lett. 8 (2013) 034015

The figure is one output of a study carried out by Emily Cassidy and colleagues of the University of Minnesota that was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The researchers approach the challenge to provide sufficient amounts of food amidst global population growth, increased biofuel production and changing dietary preferences from a different angle than is widely done. Instead of estimating the increases in farm prodution necessary to satisfy the rising needs for agricultural products they analyze the current allocation of the world’s crop production to different uses.

According to the study, only 55% of global calorie production is directly used for human consumption. The remaining 45% serve either as animal feed or other uses such as industrial purposes and biofuels. In consequence, 41% of all calories produced are lost from the global food system. While the crops grown on one hectare could satisfy the caloric needs of 10 people, currently only 6 people are fed.

The graph gives a global overview of the fraction of the calories delivered to the food system per calories produced.  It shows that the losses from the food system are highest where livestock production, industrial uses and biofuels production are of a high importance. These are mainly the most affluent regions (e.g. North America, Europe), but also the regions in which agriculture is oriented at the production of animal feed for the global market (e.g. Eastern South America).

The arguably most important conclusion from the analysis is that if the crop calories used for feed and other uses were shifted to direct human consumption, up to around 4 billion more people could be fed. Or, perhaps easier to achieve, already small changes in the allocation of crops to animal feed and biofuels could significantly increase global food availability.


Modeling climate change and agriculture: a special issue of Agricultural Economics

AgEconAgMIPA highly interesting series of articles on economic foresight modeling in the area of agriculture and climate change has been published in the January 2014 special issue “Modeling climate change and agriculture” of Agricultural Economics.

The articles present analyses of the future consequences of climate change and global socio-economic development trends for agricultural production, food consumption, along with the potential impacts of alternative policy responses to these developments. All articles are outputs of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) and the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISI-MIP), which brought together key global economic modeling groups in a cross-model scenario comparison exercise.

The articles are not only insightful with respect to the projections themselves, but also give a very good impression of the present global economic modeling landscape. It is also highly valuable that identical scenarios have been simulated with a large number of simulation models. This provides important evidence about the degree of uncertainty in the model projections and helps understanding root causes for differences in model results.

The articles are

And what’s also great: All articles are Open Access!

Why blogging helps improving your research productivity

Expiscor blogger Christopher Buddle found a positive correlation between his blogging activity and his research outputs, which let him to explore three potential reasons why blogging could help research productivity. Here, in a nutshell, are the reasons:

  1. The continous practice of writing texts allows you to write better and faster.
  2. Blogging allows expanding knowledge, also and in particular in fields which are not in one’s direct area of expertise. This, in turn, has various positive effects on research productivity (for learning which, just see the original post).
  3. Through blogging and the use of other social media, one becomes better connected to the community of researchers.

Definitely, all three reasons are true. And beyond this, blogging is also fun!