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Title: The potential of agent-based modeling as a tool to unravel the complexity of household food security : a case study of rural southern Malawi
Author: Dobbie, Samantha Louise
ISNI:       0000 0004 6347 5898
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2016
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Household food security is shaped by the way in which households acquire and utilise assets, within a context of vulnerability. The multiple interactions between the various factors that affect the livelihoods of households give rise to often complex and non-linear system behaviour. Conventional policies have failed to eradicate food insecurity within developing country contexts. There is a need for new approaches to direct the design and implementation of interventions that address the multi-scalar and dynamic nature of food security. One possible technique is agent-based modelling, which comprises a computerised simulation of agents located within an environment. Behaviour at the system level is an emergent property of the collective behaviour at the local level, resulting from the interactions between agents and the environment through predisposed rules. Within Malawi, the vast majority of the rural population is engaged in subsistence farming. Continued reliance upon rain-fed agriculture renders smallholders vulnerable to climatic shocks, whilst high population densities, small plot size and poor soil quality further compound food insecurity. The overarching aim of this project was to explore the potential of agent-based modelling to unravel the complexity of household food security within rural Southern Malawi. As a starting point, we used cluster analysis of household survey data to construct a typology of rural households. This drove the design of an agent-based model (ABM) that takes into account the availability, access, utilisation and stability components of food security. Techniques from exploratory modelling and analysis were then employed to explore model uncertainty and identify potential pathways to alleviate food insecurity of households within rural Southern Malawi. The ability of agent-based modelling to address the complexity of food security was then evaluated. The model was found to be highly salient. However, future work will need to enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the tool. It is only then that the true potential of ABM's in addressing the complexity of rural food security will be fulfilled.
Supervisor: Schreckenberg, Kathrin Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available