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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Assessing the sustainability of Luxembourgish agriculture


Deforestation and soil degradation is one of many consequences of climate change. Food production systems alone are responsible for around a quarter of annual emissions. Researchers in Luxembourg are working with local actors to create models to help assess the sustainability of Luxembourgish farms.

The issues experienced due to climate change, deforestation and soil degradation affect every living being on the planet. Better science-backed policies, responsible consumer behavior and forward-looking businesses are vital. Agriculture has a bidirectional link with the impact that people generate on the environment – food production systems are responsible for 21-37% of annual emissions in terms of Global Warming Potential (GWP).[1]

In order to best assess the sustainability of practices such as agriculture, different types of models are needed that look as agriculture as a complex system.

“The greatest problem of humanity is, and will be for a foreseen future, the environmental burden we are leaving for the next generations. Combining complex systems with sustainability assessment methods to tackle this problem will be the main challenge for modellers,” explains PhD researcher Alper Bayram, an electrical and electronics engineer by practise, computational scientist in the making, with deep concerns on environmental issues.

Modelling crop and livestock management in Luxembourg

As part of his PhD research, Alper models crop and livestock management activities of Luxembourgish farms to simulate different scenarios under economic and environmental constraints. The farmers take decisions based on their behavioural attributes, such as risk aversion, environmental awareness, as well as personal attributes, such as age and farm properties.

“Multi-agent systems, and in general complex systems, can model each individual entity in a given environment (transportation network, building, agricultural land etc.) so that a modeller can run scenarios to assess the possible outcomes of changing behaviours of agents or different policy implementations. During COVID-19 pandemic for instance, researchers used complex systems to understand the dynamics and evolution of pandemic.[2] explains Alper.

The complex systems include several decision-making agents that are interacting with and influencing each other. These agents can only be modelled if the modeler has access to viable information. Information uncertainty can quickly spread in complex models, which influences the reliability of simulation outcomes.

Change practices to make businesses more sustainable

Alper agent-based modelling (ABM) for policy evaluation, which can help decision-makers to change some practices to make businesses more sustainable.

“My research combines ABM with life-cycle assessment (LCA), which is a well-known sustainability assessment method that measures the environmental impacts of products and processes.”

The researchers are modelling the agricultural sector in Luxembourg as a case study, involving working with local actors such as Service d’économie rurale (SER), Institut fir biologësch Landwirtschaft an Agrarkultur Luxemburg (IBLA) and Lycée Technique Agricole (LTA).

“The sustainability assessment is done for each year of simulation based on crop and animal productions. The farmers may change their behaviour according to their neighbours’ behaviour. We are incorporating the subsidy schemes currently in place in Luxembourg to help a farmer agent find a better solution between profitability and impact on the environment.”

Possible scenarios to reduce agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions in Luxembourg

The researchers’ simulations show that there are possible scenarios which can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) due to agricultural practices in Luxembourg.

“In one of them we propose a scenario where the size of the herd gradually decreases, which in the end causes less emissions both to the air and soil. The economic liability of less dairy and meat production, however, is not so significant considering the cost of maintaining the animals would also reduce in such a scenario.”

Alper Bayram is a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Lifecycle and Sustainability Assessment group at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), whose research is supported by a grant from the FNR’s INTER programme.

[1] Lynch, John, et al. “Agriculture’s contribution to climate change and role in mitigation is distinct from predominantly fossil CO2-emitting sectors.” Frontiers in sustainable food systems (2021): 300.

[2] Kerr, Cliff C., et al. “Covasim: an agent-based model of COVID-19 dynamics and interventions.” PLOS Computational Biology 17.7 (2021): e1009149.


On what drives him as a scientist

“The objective of contributing to humanity’s common knowledge and proposing ways of tackling the issue of impacts we cause on the environment are my major drivers. My colleagues have been working in sustainability assessment for years and I joined this group to be exposed as much as possible to their vast knowledge.”

On choosing to become a researcher

“I chose to become a researcher because I am re-learning how to learn things every day. It is more than mastering a skill I already know; it is learning a new skill every day which cannot be possible in other work fields. Also, when I think about research being the accumulation of human knowledge to this day and growing by individual accomplishments every day, it helps me in search of meaning of life.”

On where he sees himself in 5 years

“There are places in the world where most people, let alone researchers, do not prefer living due to different reasons. I would love an opportunity where I can keep expanding my knowledge and yet have the chance to live there and contribute to the common knowledge of those places, like Antarctica or Africa. If I have that opportunity, I would not mind working for any research institution, NGO or private company.”

On support

“There are many colleagues in my current research group and faculty members from Boğaziçi University, where I studied my bachelor’s and master’s, have always been supportive in my struggles with their constructive feedbacks.”

On choosing Luxembourg for his research

“Firstly, my previous position as a data scientist for Lely (a Dutch agricultural machinery producer) gave me the confidence to work in a project in this sector. I was already looking for positions that involve sustainability assessment and after seeing the position availability I noticed that LCA is an area where my current group has a great track record. Other than project being a great fit to my previous experiences, I knew that Luxembourg is known as a very welcoming country for young professionals. It is now a place where I can call home after almost three years.”

About Spotlight on Young Researchers

Spotlight on Young Researchers is an annual FNR campaign where we shine a Spotlight on early-career researchers across the world with a connection to Luxembourg. Nearly 100 features have been published since the first edition in 2016.

Browse them below!

Alper Bayram © LIST