Better farming decisions – teaching through play

Jul 01, 2013
Better farming decisions – teaching through play

An interactive board game, which teaches rural farmers to consider the environment, their neighbours and economic sustainability when making decisions about farming – has been developed by researchers at the the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

It was while doing field work in a land restitution area in Limpopo about three years ago that Karen Nortje, Constansia Musvoto and their colleagues discovered that the main cause of damaging agricultural practices was fragmented, uncoordinated decision-making processes with a dominant focus on immediate livelihood needs.


“We visited this beautiful piece of land next to a small lake and saw rows of cabbages planted right up to the water’s edge. The farmer explained that he planted the cabbages so close to the water for convenience. It would save time on irrigation,” says Nortje.

It was certainly not intentional, but the financial risk of his endeavour and the impact on the environment, or on the wellness of villagers who live downstream, was not foremost in his mind.
His main focus was to provide much needed vegetables to his community and fulfil his financial obligations to his family.

“In most cases survival is the first priority. There is simply no systematic process followed when decisions about this type of farming are made in his community,” says Nortje.

“The farmer had heard talk of cabbage farming being rather lucrative, but he did not consider that planting on the flood line could lead to his next harvest being washed away during a storm. Furthermore the soil could wash into the river causing siltation and the fertilisers could upset the nutrient balance in the water with a huge impact on the local eco system,” adds Musvoto.

He also did not consider the impact of the water pollution on communities downstream who might drink the water.

Nortje, a social anthropologist, and Musvoto, an agricultural ecologist, work on projects which aim to improve rural livelihoods through sustainable management and use of land for agriculture.

They partnered with Vhembe District Municipality and in particular, Makhado Local Municipality, the University of Venda and a non-governmental organisation, Nkuzi Development Association, over the past three years to develop a tool to guide the community.

The researchers included role players such as farmers, traditional and community leaders, municipalities and local counsellors. They expressed a need for an interactive tool which is easy to use without help from expert facilitators.

The Integrated and Coordinated Agrarian Decisions (ICAD) tool was developed, at first only as a manual, and later also as an interactive board game.

The game, which was tested in Limpopo last year, simulates a situation where a villager consults with the community about the use of a specific piece of land.

Eight players take on several different roles which have been identified through the research process.
These reflect real life positions occupied by people involved in the process of land-use decision-making in the Limpopo land restitution areas. The roles could be those of a proposer (the person who is proposing a particular land use), a facilitator of the discussion, a representative of the Communal Property Association Executive Committee, a neighbour to the proposed area of development, a traditional leader, an elder, another farmer, a villager on the Water Committee, someone who lives downstream or a beneficiary of the Communal Property Association.

Each player wears a name tag to show his role in the game and receives an ID card which tells them a little bit about the roles and responsibilities of the person whose role they are playing. They then follow the process of decision-making by starting with the proposal and leading to a final decision considering the social, environmental and economic factors. They score the rounds after voting with tokens to indicate being in favour (green), against (red) or a request for more information (yellow).

“This is about making an impact on the everyday lives of people who perhaps do not have access to scientific journals or experts who can guide them through these types of decisions,” says Nortje.
The ICAD manual is available in English and Tshivenda (the local language in Elim, Limpopo), but the researchers hope to also translate and refine the board game with the help of more funding. (Source:CSIR, visit them at )

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