Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Photo: Mercy Corps.

Why the name Ceres2030?

The name “Ceres” comes from Roman mythology. Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture. The year 2030 is the deadline for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 2 on ending hunger, improving nutritional and environmental outcomes, and raising the incomes of small-scale food producers. SDG 2 is the focus of Ceres2030.

How do we define sustainability?

Ceres2030 takes a holistic view of sustainability. The project integrates all three dimensions of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. Economic sustainability is embedded in the general equilibrium model that is a central pillar of the project. General equilibrium models are able to look at the interaction and dynamic effects of the economic behaviour of private agents as well as governments. Social sustainability is integrated into both the model and the evidence reviews because of the focus on two of SDG 2 targets: SDG 2.1 (to end hunger) and SDG 2.3 (to double the productivity of small-scale producers). Environmental sustainability is mostly integrated through target SDG 2.4 (to improve the environmental performance of agriculture). Five environmental factors are integrated into the economic model: land, energy, fertilizer and water use, and a climate target that has been drawn from commitments that governments made in the context of the Paris Agreement. On the evidence side, environmental sustainability is an integral part of each of the eight intervention questions for which an evidence synthesis is being written. 

Why is nutrition not included in Ceres2030, given that it is part of SDG 2?

SDG 2.2 is a target to improve nutrition. Efforts to model and identify effective interventions to achieve SDG 2.2 are being undertaken by several organizations, including the World Bank, Results for Development and 1000 Days. They are beyond the scope of Ceres2030, given that addressing such a complex topic requires further time and resources. In addition, nutrition interventions require far more investment from governments than the interventions needed to end hunger. It is important that governments understand this and the scale of the nutrition challenge. However, it is of another order of magnitude than what is needed for SDG 2.1, even when including the targets on small-scale producer productivity (2.3) and the environment (2.4)

How does the Ceres2030 economic model work?

Ceres2030 uses a computable general equilibrium (CGE) multi-country and multi-sector model. The model simulates national and international markets, taking into account production, demand and prices and integrates that with an analysis of biophysical and socioeconomic trends (Laborde et al., 2013). The model integrates the important economic factors that affect agriculture, thereby providing a robust quantitative framework for estimating costs.

The model is combined with data from household surveys. The bottom-up approach allows the modelers to understand changes in consumption and production for major food items, as well as the dynamics of other sources of income. The detailed framework allows the modelers to target interventions based on the precise characteristics of hungry households rather than on national averages.

As with all economic models, there are limitations. For example, household data does not exist for every country, so the modelers must use the household data they have and extrapolate from them. Nor is it possible currently to “cost” the institutional environment, which means the model does not include institutional constraints, how they work, where money actually goes in practice, and which institutional mechanisms are the most effective at delivering these interventions.

This is why Ceres2030 combines economic modeling with evidence work. The interaction between the model and the evidence syntheses improves the reliability of the model, strengthening the assumptions with what is an ever-growing and increasingly robust body of agricultural research.

What is a Ceres2030 evidence synthesis?

It is an important part of academia to situate new research in the existing body of knowledge. More recently, several disciplines have begun to develop formal methodologies for these reviews in an attempt to better systematise and synthesise what knowledge currently exists. Medicine and public health, for example, pioneered the      Cochrane reviews, which follow a strict methodology to analyze large numbers of studies to ascertain what can be concluded from the best of the evidence available. The state of knowledge on interventions to end hunger sustainably is difficult to synthesise, given the various disciplines and methodologies involved, which makes comparisons difficult. However, a properly conducted evidence synthesis can assess what is already known about the intervention, how that knowledge was derived, and to what extent that knowledge has been confirmed by others. Ceres2030 evidence syntheses are working with the existing approaches to systematic evidence reviews and extending and adapting them to the context of agriculture and food systems. The objective of Ceres2030 is to provide evidence syntheses that will support governments in making the best use of their public investments, both domestically and internationally, to meet their commitment to eradicate hunger sustainably.

Ceres2030 has established author teams to prepare evidence synthesis articles on eight different interventions to end hunger. Each evidence synthesis will be published as an article in one of the Nature journals. As with other kinds of systematic evidence reviews, the team first develops a formal “protocol” to guide their work, which outlines how the teams will handle the evidence they review. The protocols include study methods, search terms, and data sources. They are registered on the publicly accessible Open Science Framework as part of establishing the scientific credibility of the synthesis.

Credibility in academic work also requires being able to replicate the process. Anyone can replicate Ceres2030 evidence syntheses by using the same search terms and returning to the databases. The Ceres2030 team is publishing the inclusion and the exclusion criteria that the researchers have used when reviewing thousands of search results. 

What is natural language processing?

Natural language processing is a computer programming technique that was first introduced about 25 years ago. It allows the researcher to search for words within text. The technique uses the computer programme to discover information, building on the words chosen for the search and expanding from there. Spell-check is one of the most commonly used applications of natural language processing—if we type “langauge,” spell-check not only detects the mistake, but is able to infer that we probably meant to type “language” instead. Natural language processing is also the backbone of every search engine, including Google, and uses context clues to find the most likely word, much as a human would do.

In the context of Ceres2030, natural language processing is a powerful extension of how much of the published literature researchers are able to review. The Ceres2030 team is using the technique to search databases of published materials related to agriculture and food systems, including both academic, peer-reviewed studies and the so-called “grey literature,” which are publications that have not been peer-reviewed but that often include valuable knowledge from stakeholders who are central to the effort to eradicate hunger.

No single data repository captures the breadth and depth of research into agriculture and food systems, including the specific research Ceres2030 is interested in to understand which policy interventions are proven most effective in eradicating hunger. Food system research spans at least a dozen academic disciplines, as well as fast-growing inter-disciplinary areas. Natural language processing makes it possible to search across many different sources.

The Ceres2030 team is using the technique to identify published material of possible interest. It does not replace the role of the multidisciplinary author teams, who then assess the material and prepare the review articles.

What is new and important about Ceres2030?

The Ceres2030 project brings together economic modeling with evidence assessments to create a powerful approach for effective interventions in complex systems. Ending hunger sustainably requires a portfolio of interventions, designed for context-specific situations. By joining two distinct processes—the cost model and the meta-studies of available evidence—Ceres2030 offers a pragmatic and effective approach to making the best use of limited public resources. The project offers donors information and analysis they can use to direct their investments to realizing SDG 2 and sustainably eradicating hunger. The project results have an immediate and interested audience among the donors committed to SDG 2 in all its dimensions. 

Is gender equality and women’s empowerment included in Ceres2030?

The answer is a partial yes. The economic model used in Ceres2030 will generate a rough gender-disaggregated analysis of the effects of agricultural interventions. It does so by combining household-level data, such as the number of women in the household and the sex of the household head, with data on gender patterns in farming and society more broadly. More precise measurement of outcomes by gender is limited by the absence of individual-level data and the lack of sufficient data on intra-household allocation at a global scale.

The evidence syntheses will support further integration of gender issues in the model by providing guidance on the types of interventions that have had the most success in improving gender equality and by supporting additional model outputs that measure the effects of gender-based interventions.

Does Ceres2030 address the issue of biodiversity?

The Ceres2030 team is acutely aware of the importance of biodiversity in the effort to realize SDG 2. The project at this time is not able to address the issue in full, given that it is currently beyond the scope and resources available to the team to integrate even simplified dimensions of biodiversity into the economic model. On the other hand, biodiversity is built into some of the intervention questions explored in the process of evidence synthesis. The Ceres2030 team is also following the international processes on biodiversity, particularly the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) preparations for a post-2020 framework.

How did we select the journal advisory board?

The evidence advisory board has a mandate to guide the preparation of the evidence synthesis articles to be published by the Nature Research journals. The mandate for the advisory board has a strong academic focus, which is why the Ceres2030 team approached academic experts and experienced food security experts working in international organizations to serve as advisors. Other stakeholder groups, such as governments, farmer and peasant organizations, or agri-businesses were not approached for this role.

Separately, members of the Ceres2030 team have held two consultations with regional farmers organizations to discuss the Ceres2030 project and to listen to their priorities for public foreign investment in food and agriculture systems.

The evidence advisory board was selected by all three partner organizations (Cornell University, IFPRI, and IISD), in consultation with international organizations, academic and research organizations, overseas development assistance donors, and NGOs. The Ceres2030 project team was also careful to ensure gender, disciplinary, and organizational diversity.

How is Ceres2030 funded?

The project has a three-and-a-half-year mandate (2018-2021). It has a budget of USD 5 million. The funders are the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

How will Ceres2030 address rights-based approaches and the right to food?

The protection and promotion of the economic and social rights of people who live with chronic hunger and poverty in developing countries are central concerns of Ceres2030 research and modeling. The Ceres2030 framework is designed around supporting the achievement of SDG 2. The 2030 Agenda, which lists the 17 SDGs, is built on a rights-based approach to development. The right to food is implicit in SDG 2.1, which is the goal to eradicate undernourishment. It is also in the sub-goal SDG 2.3, which is a commitment to double the incomes and agricultural productivity of small-scale food producers.

To what extent will surveys and practical experience on agroecology be integrated in the Ceres 2030 project?

Where there is data the project can use, agroecological practices and approaches are among the policy interventions whose costs the Ceres2030 team are assessing in the economic model. This data constraint applies to any technology or production method. Agroecology is also part of the evidence review, where it is captured in the articles reviewed, in particular as agroecological practices and approaches have a bearing on SDG targets 2.3 and 2.4. The Ceres2030 evidence syntheses will include studies on agroecology, together with other studies that look at other farming practices and technologies.

How does Ceres2030 address regional and local markets?

Regional and local markets are central to strong food systems and food security. Both the evidence syntheses and the cost model include regional and local markets. For many small-scale producers, the lack of access to their own markets is a major source of income loss and deters them from investing in their production. Connecting local producers to local and regional consumers is an effective way to improve livelihoods, as is explored in the evidence synthesis article that looks at services for farmers where they sell their production. Informal food markets are vibrant in many parts of the developing world. The cost model will also factor in the role of local and regional markets.

How does Ceres2030 address genetic technologies such as genetic modification (GM)?

The Ceres2030 project is designed to make sense of existing evidence, and to cost effective interventions based on that evidence and on what cost models can tell us about the dynamic and interlinked effects of policy interventions in markets. The evidence synthesis work includes articles on many technologies. 

The methodology is designed to discourage pre-judgements on what interventions are most effective. Genetic modification is a specific gene technology, out of the many technologies available. Although it continues to receive significant public attention, it did not emerge as an intervention for its own evidence synthesis article. GMOs are not explicitly included in the cost model. The broader outcomes captured in Ceres2030 research look at the impact of agricultural research and development (R&D) in promoting sustainable productivity growth. Genetics and plant breeding are critical components of agricultural R&D. The authors will review and write about GMOs in this context, reviewing the evidence that exists in the field, together with a broad range of other scientific technologies and approaches, including participatory seed development.