Dr Rohan Nelson, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems

Dr Rohan Nelson integrates ideas and methods from economics and social science to enhance the societal value of environmental science.

Dr Rohan Nelson: agricultural and natural resource economics

Dr Rohan Nelson is an agricultural and natural resource economist specialising in making environmental science and economics relevant to communities, industries and governments.

  • 29 April 2008 | Updated 14 October 2011

In this article

  1. Overview
  2. Publishing History


Page 1 of 2

Current activities

Dr Nelson is currently on secondment to the Australian Government Department of Climate Change where he is leading the:

Dr Rohan Nelson works across disciplines and with other scientists to provide integrated analytical support for decision making by:

  • farmers
  • natural resource managers
  • policy advisers.

Dr Nelson’s research is motivated by the belief that the societal value of natural sciences only becomes known at the point at which somebody actually uses them. His research is focused on enhancing the societal value of science by aligning its design and implementation with the needs of decision makers throughout society. Dr Nelson’s interest in the societal relevance and value of science has led to him becoming an affiliate of the Consortium for Science Policy Outcomes [external link] (CSPO) at Arizona State University in the United States.

His work includes the design of science and governance systems that support rural communities and industries in their ongoing efforts to adapt to global change. He has particular expertise in aligning the supply of natural resource management (NRM) information with the needs of decision makers. Another area of considerable expertise is in exploring the socioeconomic influences that affect the adoption of new farming and NRM technologies.

Dr Nelson also has a keen interest in research program design and creating innovative research cultures responsive to changing community needs.

His recent projects include:

  • Testing the feasibility of creating an adaptive capacity index using Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  • Rural livelihoods analysis enabling natural resource managers to self-assess their adaptive capacity, for the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change and the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship
  • Does climate science matter? – The evolution of communities of practice to bridge a relevance gap between society and climate science, for the CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship
  • Enabling NRM decision makers to make better use of climate science, for the Managing Climate Variability R&D Program
  • The adoption and livelihood impacts of rabi season cropping in southern Bangladesh, for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
  • Uncovering hidden climate knowledge: combining statistical methods to derive industry-relevant climate information, for the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship.


Dr Nelson joined CSIRO in 2006 from Land & Water Australia, where he coordinated the Managing Climate Variability (MCV) research and development funding program. MCV is a multi-million dollar industry-government partnership funding research and development in the management of climate risk in agricultural production and natural resource management.

Dr Nelson has a keen interest in research program design and creating innovative research cultures responsive to changing community needs.

Prior to joining Land & Water Australia, Dr Nelson worked as an Agricultural and Natural Resource Economist with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE). This position involved leadership of socioeconomic research into the resilience of Australian rural communities to the risks arising from markets, climate variability and threats to the natural resource base.

In this role and others, Dr Nelson has gained considerable experience in climate variability research and extension and is well networked with Australian researchers working on climate risk management.

In other roles with ABARE, Dr Nelson managed ABARE’s commodity forecasting and forestry economics sections where he led the strategic development of commodity forecasting and agricultural trade modelling, particularly for world grain markets.

Prior to working with ABARE, Dr Nelson led the Whopper Cropper project with the Department of Primary Industries in Queensland, delivering grain growers the benefits of crop modelling to improve the management of climate risk in Australia’s northern grain regions.

Academic qualifications

Dr Nelson completed his doctoral research in the mid-1990s with The University of Queensland, Australia. The project involved the use of the APSIM cropping systems model to analyse the risks of maize farming in the Philippines uplands from soil erosion, climate variability and maize prices.

Dr Nelson also has undergraduate degrees in economics and science (forestry) from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.


Dr Nelson was recently awarded a CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems award for excellence in converting rigorous science to agricultural and NRM policy advice to State and Federal Governments.

Much of Dr Nelson’s research within CSIRO is responding to demand from policy clients in Australian and State governments by:

  • creating integrated modelling and information systems that translate seasonal climate forecasts and climate change projections into economic and social impacts
  • developing and implementing operational measures of the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of rural communities to global change that inform both policy and community based natural resource management
  • designing innovative systems of natural resource governance that integrate science with local knowledge to achieve locally relevant outcomes, and tailoring these for specific policy applications, such as drought policy
  • developing more integrative approaches to understanding socioeconomic influences on the adoption of sustainable farming practices for the monitoring, evaluation and review of NRM policy and programs.

Dr Nelson is lead or associate author on around 100 scientific publications.

Read about Sustainable agricultural landscapes.