Centre of Applied Research Technology

Simulating Small-Scale Agricultural Adaptation Decisions in Response to Drought Risk: An Empirical Agent-Based Model for Semi-Arid Kenya


In Eastern Africa, increasing climate variability and changing socioeconomic conditions are exacerbating the frequency and intensity of drought disasters. Droughts pose a severe threat to food security in this region, which is characterized by a large dependency on smallholder rain-fed agriculture and a low level of technological development in the food production systems.

Future drought risk will be determined by the adaptation choices made by farmers, yet few drought risk models … incorporate adaptive behavior in the estimation of drought risk. Here, we present an innovative dynamic drought risk adaptation model, ADOPT, to evaluate the factors that influence adaptation decisions and the subsequent adoption of measures, and how this affects drought risk for agricultural production. ADOPT combines socio-hydrological and agent-based modeling approaches by coupling the FAO crop model AquacropOS with a behavioral model capable of simulating different adaptive behavioral theories. In this paper, we compare the protection motivation theory, which describes bounded rationality, with a business-as-usual and an economic rational adaptive behavior. The inclusion of these scenarios serves to evaluate and compare the effect of different assumptions about adaptive behavior on the evolution of drought risk over time. Applied to a semi-arid case in Kenya, ADOPT is parameterized using field data collected from 250 households in the Kitui region and discussions with local decision-makers. The results show that estimations of drought risk and the need for emergency food aid can be improved using an agent-based approach: we show that ignoring individual household characteristics leads to an underestimation of food-aid needs. Moreover, we show that the bounded rational scenario is better able to reflect historic food security, poverty levels, and crop yields. Thus, we demonstrate that the reality of complex human adaptation decisions can best be described assuming bounded rational adaptive behavior; furthermore, an agent-based approach and the choice of adaptation theory matter when quantifying risk and estimating emergency aid needs.

Reference Wens, M., Veldkamp, T. I., Mwangi, M., Johnson, J. M., Lasage, R., Haer, T., & Aerts, J. C. J. H. (2020). Simulating Small-Scale Agricultural Adaptation Decisions in Response to Drought Risk: An Empirical Agent-Based Model for Semi-Arid Kenya. Frontiers in Water, 2, Article 15. https://doi.org/10.3389/frwa.2020.00015
Published by  Centre for Applied Research Technology 1 July 2020

Publication date

Jul 2020


Marthe Wens
Moses Mwangi
J. Michael Johnson
Ralph Lasage
Toon Haer
Jeroen C. J. H. Aerts


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