An agent based model representation to assess resilience and efficiency of food supply chains

George van Voorn*, Geerten Hengeveld, Jan Verhagen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Trying to meet the Sustainable Development Goals is challenging. Food supply chains may have to become more efficient to meet the increasing food requirement of 10 Billion people by 2050. At the same time, food and nutrition security are at risk from increasingly likely shocks like extreme climate events, market shocks, pandemics, changing consumer preferences, and price volatility. Here we consider some possibilities and limitations regarding the improvement of resilience (the capacity to deal with shocks) and efficiency (here interpreted as the share of produced food delivered to consumers) of food supply chains. We employ an Agent Based Model of a generic food chain network consisting of stylized individuals representing producers, traders, and consumers. We do this: 1/ to describe the dynamically changing disaggregated flows of crop items between these agents, and 2/ to be able to explicitly consider agent behaviour. The agents have implicit personal objectives for trading. We quantify resilience and efficiency by linking these to the fraction of fulfilment of the overall explicit objective to have all consumers meet their food requirement. We consider different types of network structures in combination with different agent interaction types under different types of stylized shocks. We find that generally the network structures with higher efficiency are also more sensitive to shocks, while less efficient network types display more resilience. At first glance these results seem to confirm the existence of a system-level trade-off between resilience and efficiency similar to what is reported in business management and ecology literature. However, the results are modified by the trading interactions and the type of shock. In our simulations resilience and efficiency are affected by ‘soft’ boundaries caused by the preference and trust of agents (i.e., social aspects) in trading. The ability of agents to switch between trading partners represents an important aspect of resilience, namely a capacity to reorganize. These insights may be relevant when considering the reorganization of real-life food chains to increase their resilience to meet future food and nutrition security goals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0242323
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2020


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