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Decision-makers should be selecting interventions that optimise outcomes across the whole set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This requires economic models that project long-term costs, benefits and risks of intervention options. There is also a need to assess trade-offs and returns to investment and this requires expressing the relative value of different aims in monetary terms.
This sounds like an impossible task given the sparse data in Africa on how interventions impact ecosystem services on- and off-site, and how ecosystem services impact on human well-being. However it can be done by building probabilistic, causal models of intervention impacts on the SDGs and populating them with available data and expert knowledge. Even though there will usually be large uncertainty in the projected outcomes, the analysis is often sufficient to make an informed decision on which are the best intervention options.
Where the choice is less clear, using the model to conduct Value-of-Information analysis pinpoints where additional information is needed to clarify the choice. Such areas should be prioritised for agricultural research and monitoring efforts. This process puts emphasis on learning on how to improve performance, as opposed to tracking pre-determined indicators that are designed in the absence of asking any specific question. Governments should seek to develop capacity in such decision analysis approaches to accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs.
Keith Shepherd is a Principal Scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi and leads the Centre’s Science Domain on Land Health Decisions. His research focuses on land health surveillance and response and stochastic impact evaluation in agricultural development. He has pioneered a Soil-Plant Spectral Diagnostics Laboratory that uses infrared, x-ray and laser light to analyse soils, and supports the Africa Soil Information Service. Keith also leads Information Systems Strategic Research in the CGIAR Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems and has developed a program on decision analytics. He previously worked with ICRAF on integrated ecological-economic modelling and nutrient balances of smallholder farm systems and methods for agroforestry on-farm research. Keith has 40 years’ experience in agricultural research and development in Africa and Asia.
This seminar is prestned by FE2W Network, and the Resources, Environment and Development Program, at Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.