Decision modeling for trees, nutrition, and livelihoods

By: Cory W. Whitney (CEESP member)

Decision analysis tools can utilize already available expert knowledge rather than requiring perfect data from long term and costly field work and experiments. Decision analysis and Bayesian Network (BN) tools allow the incorporation of disparate data sources and uncertain inputs, to create a representation of the current understanding of cause and effect relationships within the target system. The IUCN defines decision analysis as ‘a decision tool that judges the desirability of projects by weighting the expected values of a given course of action […] to give expected utilities’. This definition and the application of decision analysis tools could be expanded within the SULi working group to help bridge the social and biological strengths of IUCN’s SSC and CEESP. The application of such model approaches can support SULi's mission to promote both conservation and livelihoods through enhancing equitable and sustainable use of wild species and their associated ecosystems

Many fruit trees on farms in the tropics are indigenous. In addition to the many potential benefits for health and livelihoods, inclusion of fruit trees in small-scale tropical farm systems often provides both habitat extensions and habitat corridors for forest species.

To explore the livelihood benefits of fruit trees, the World Agroforestry Centre’s Decision Analysis team organized the workshop ‘The Integration of fruit trees into agricultural landscapes of Kenya to enhance nutrition security’, from April 19th - 21st in Nairobi, Kenya, supported by the Innovative Metrics and Methods for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions (IMMANA) program. The workshop brought together a broad range of different experts, trained them in the use of decision analysis tools and BNs to build a probabilistic causal model for nutritional outcomes of fruit trees on farms.


Through the use of decision analysis methods, and combining features of several participatory procedures into a customized conversational process, the organizers gathered expert knowledge to generate relationships and distributions of variables of importance and parameterized them using a BN. Through the three-day workshop the team was able to identify the critical determinants of the effectiveness of fruit trees for nutrition, establish the factors determining the success of the steps along the impact pathway, and define the context of a BN. Participants benefited from the collaborative dialogue and knowledge sharing and came away with a preliminary model of their collaborative work on the linkages between fruit trees and nutrition. They also provided useful feedback on the BN approach as an impact-planning tool and gave suggestions for refinement.

Cory W. Whitney is a PhD student at the University of Kassel and a member of the Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) the joint initiative of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP). 

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