PhD researcher: Participatory agent-based modelling of food system changes towards a circular economy

Vacancy number: EV/2020/041/L&M
Place of employment Burgemeester Van Gansberghelaan 115 bus 2 - 9820 Merelbeke

Are you passionate about circular economy and sustainability in the agro-food system? Are you interested in computational agent-based modelling and knowledge co-creation with different stakeholders? Do you want to deliver insights that guide agro-food systems towards change? Are you interested in contributing to both European and Flemish projects?

Job description

The Social Sciences Unit of the Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) is looking for a PhD candidate who will develop, in close interaction with stakeholders, agent-based models to analyse mechanisms and influencing factors of food system changes towards a circular economy.

You will be employed primarily on the European H2020 project RUSTICA (ID-101000527: 2021-2024).

RUSTICA aims to foster the technical validation, demonstration and implementation of bio-based fertiliser and soil improvement production techniques based on waste from the fruit and vegetable agro-food system, in order to close regional nutrient cycles. A transdisciplinary multi-actor approach is used to establish multi-valorisation configurations in 4 regions across the European Union and 1 region in Latin America. The main tasks of the Social Sciences Unit of ILVO within the project consist of organising the multi-actor approach, developing an agent-based model to gain insights in the feasibility of different value chain configurations and influencing factors, and contributing to the development of business models based on the obtained project insights.

You will also be employed on other ongoing projects. Foodlever is a European project aiming to investigate leverage points for sustainable local and global food systems. In this project, an agentbased model will be developed for analysing different scenarios and mechanisms, including potential behavioural changes from producers to consumers, as leveraging points of food system changes in order to reach higher levels of sustainability. Soy2Grow is a Flemish project aiming to investigate how to break big global loops of the soy value chain by incentivizing more soy production in Flanders, where the soy import market is dominant. The main task in this project is to develop an agent-based model helping stakeholders to understand the potential of value chains based on soy grown in Flanders.


As a PhD researcher, your tasks within this project involve:

  • Develop agent-based models in close interaction with stakeholders to analyse the feasibility of system changes towards more circularity.
  • Analyse how the agent-based modelling insights can contribute to knowledge co-creation in order to facilitate actors in the value chain to take action.
  • Integrate data and results from project partners’ activities into the agent-based model.
  • Organize workshops to validate and verify the agent-based model and obtained results.
  • Write scientific articles and contribute to the project reporting.
  • Present research results in conferences, symposia, and so on.

Our organization

Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) is a multidisciplinary research institute of the Flemish government, with a focus on supporting sustainable agriculture, horticulture, fisheries and food research.

Drawing on the 5 important ILVO values - Positivity, Proactivity, Professionalism, Working Together and Being an Example, we are steadily growing ILVO as a socially relevant center of expertise. We work together within a culture of open, honest discussion and mutual trust.

And ... now you might be able to play a role in this wonderful story!

We employ more than 670 people, about half of which are researchers. Approximately 35% of the personnel works for the Flemish government; the rest is employed by ILVO's Own Capital funding based on project and contract research.

Your Profile

  • You recently obtained a Master degree in Bio-Science Engineering, Economics, Business Engineering, Applied Economics, Sociology, or a Master’s degree with great affinity with sustainable food production and consumption, or similar level.
  • You meet the generic conditions to carry out a PhD

Candidate Skills

  • Theoretical and practical background of agent-based modelling development or strong
    interest in learning agent-based modelling in a short time.
  • You are able to develop your code in R and NetLogo or you are able to pick up a relevant coding language quickly.
  • Interested to work in an international and multicultural environment around agriculture and food.
  • Organizational skills for workshops organizations.
  • Team player and passion for learning new skills.
  • Fluent in writing and speaking in English and is willing to learn Dutch within a short time.

Our offer

We offer you a 4 year PhD position with the following conditions:

  • The doctoral scholarship is initially granted for 1 year and can be extended to 4 years,
    after a favorable evaluation. The scholarship is free of personal income tax, but does
    contribute to your social security (e.g. pension).
  • The grant amount is 2,323.91 net (2,673.31 gross) for the first 2 years. For the final 2 years the amount is 2,431.29 net (2.796.86 gross).
  • We offer additional benefits in terms of health insurance, covering transportation costs, and so on.
  • You will join the Social Sciences Unit of ILVO, a young, multidisciplinary research group
    with over 50 researchers. We conduct socially relevant scientific research within the
    context of sustainable agriculture, fisheries and food from a socioeconomic perspective.
  • A varied, challenging and socially relevant job. You obtain a job with responsibility and
    this within a dynamic environment with attractive working conditions

Foreseen start of the PhD position: January 1st, 2021

How to apply?

You can apply online via ‘werken voor Vlaanderen’ and this at the latest until Monday, the 30nd of November 2020. If you cannot apply online, you can request the application form via

The following documents should be attached as one pdf-file:

  • Motivation letter
  • CV
  • A transcript of the required degree
  • An overview of your study results

Candidates found fit (based on CV screening) will be invited for a selection interview during the second week of December. Please include a telephone number and e-mail address where you can be reached during the day.

For more info please contact

Job content: Jef Van Meensel, Senior researcher - 09 272 23 59 -
Employment conditions: Caroline Buyst, HR-specialist - 09 272 25 12 -