Modelling farmland dynamics in response to farmer decisions using an advanced irrigation-related agent-based model

Dengxiao Lang*, Maurits W. Ertsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Often, individual, communal, regional, or even national conflicts arise when water resources are shared and used. For equitable water-sharing strategies to be implemented, adequate collective action is required to allocate water – not limited to, but specifically in irrigation systems. In this research, we develop an Advanced Irrigation-Related Agent-Based Model (AIRABM) to explore issues of unequal access to water in relation to water use on farm and system levels. By simulating farmer activities and system management decisions within an irrigation system, our research aims to explore farmland dynamics in response to different levels of decision-making according to water availability. We incorporate both individual and collective decision-making processes to explore patterns in farmers’ yields and the dynamics of farmlands. Our results show that (1) within a prevailing trend of increasing yields for higher river discharge and gate capacity, (2) the influence of water availability is characterized by nonlinear changes in yields in response to variations in river discharge and gate capacity, revealing thresholds and tipping points, with (3) strategies for water redistribution partially alleviate inequitable water allocation between upstream and downstream farmers, although considerable variation persists in individual farmers’ and system-wide harvest outcomes. The AIRABM emphasizes individual and collective decision-making processes, encapsulating the uncertainty stemming from water availability and harvests of individual farmers. The modeling framework serves as a valuable tool to explore cooperative approaches in shared (water) resource management. Our findings provide meaningful suggestions to study and promote communication and (conditional) cooperation measures between farmers and management, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of irrigation water distribution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110535
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Modelling
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Agent-based model
  • Common pool resource
  • Decision-making
  • Harvest memory
  • Water availability


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