The “Grazing Game”: Playing climate change in West Africa

ZEFnews No. 32 | 2


Everyday we are confronted by a continuous series of pictures, videos, reports, and news revealing the plight of desperate people risking and sacrificing their lives to attain secure and better living conditions in countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas. According to statistics on forced migration in the UNHCR report “Global Trends”, almost 60 million people were forcibly displaced globally at the end of 2014. Among the displaced are internally displaced persons (38.2 million), refugees (19.5 million), as well as asylum seekers (1.8 million). The search for bet-ter living conditions forces thousands of people to travel either on broken-down boats across the Mediterranean Sea, as a human cargo in overcrowded and stifling trucks, or as stowaways on train routes such as the notorious “La Bestia” from Central to North America. The countries of the global North are complicit in creating the pres-ent refugee crisis with their refusal to implement legal immigration options and, thus, secure escape routes. The topography of forced displacement shows once more that the root causes of forced migration need more attention than in the past. The reasons why people are forced to migrate are multiple and related to a complex system of economic, environmental, social, and political intercon-nected processes and causalities. Since its inception in 1997, ZEF has been conducting interdisciplinary research in countries of the global South to find science-based solu-tions for precisely such development-related issues. It will have to intensify its efforts given the current crisis.Eva Youkhana has been Director of ZEF’s Department of Political and Cultural Change as of September 1, 2015



The most extreme effects of climate change are projected in West Africa and are expected to occur in desert and grassland areas. It is crucial for local populations in this region to better understand what such projections mean for them so that they can develop sound adaptation poli-cies and interventions. For this purpose, we developed an online game, called the ‘grazing game’. With this comput-er-based game we conducted trials with local farmers at multiple study sites in West Africa. The grazing game is a learning tool to better understand the behavior of farmers in response to climate variability under semi-arid condi-tions and to facilitate social learning. The grazing game was also designed to reveal the human-induced processes that lead to over-grazing and desertification. So the game shows the players’ interactions with environmental condi-tions and their resulting decisions. Here, we are reporting on the game trials we conducted in Benin and Ghana. In Ghana, we conducted a total of 23 game trials around the Vea catchment of the Upper East Region of Ghana involving 243 individual farmers. In Benin, we explored gender-specific responses and coping strategies with respect to climate variability in the agrarian context. In Benin, we used a combination of a household survey and an experimental gaming exercise involving 260 households. 76 percent of the respondents were male and 24 percent female.Ghana: Playing climate changeThe game trials we ran in northern Ghana replicated rain-fall fluctuations and assessed the respective responses of

ZEFnews No. 32 | 3

local farmers. The farmers responded very positively and by playing the game were able to identify coping strategies such as selling cows, seeking government assistance, and engaging in alternative livelihood means. It turned out that the farmers participating in the game tended to avoid uncertain situations and sought to simplify their decisions. on the other hand, the game provided insights into the farmers’ rich ecological knowledge of environmental indi-cators. Based on the results of the game trial, we found that the game can facilitate instrumental and communica-tive learning processes among the players and facilitators. Further, the game can serve as a platform where players share their views, knowledge and perceptions of climate-related issues. Benin: Gender mattersThis study explores gender-specific responses to climate variability and related coping strategies in the agrarian context of Benin in West Africa. To date, there is only a limited understanding of gender-differentiated impacts of climate change in West Africa. Yet, there is an urgent need to integrate gender analyses into adaptation responses to climate change. only a few studies have explored the linkages between gender and agro-ecological sustainabil-ity, decision making, and the shaping of multi-functional landscapes. In this research conducted in the context of a semi-arid ecosystem in northern Benin, we explored the following questions: How do male and female farm-ers perceive and react to climate variability and extreme weather conditions? Do male and female perspectives dif-fer in terms of land-use preferences and coping strategies for climate variability? What determines related decisions under conditions of climate uncertainty? These research questions are linked to the overall understanding of resil-ience among subsistence agricultural systems in semi-arid ecosystems. Improved knowledge of gender-differentiated exposure and response to shocks, particularly climate change-related shocks, is key to helping communities become more resilient in the face of the risks and uncer-tainty associated with global climate change. Women are more active and innovativeRural subsistence farmers in northern Benin are suffer-ing from highly erratic rainfall patterns. Some of the 260 households interviewed about gender-related responses to climate variability also participated in an experimental gaming exercise. The results indicate that although men and women are equally aware of climate variability and share similar coping strategies, their specific land-use related strategies, preferences, and motivations differ. In this game, both male and female farmers played the role of land manager under erratic rainfall conditions. Both methods captured some aspects of the realities they are facing and common problems in the study area. Although perceptions and adaptation measures related to climate change are quite similar between men and women, the means, capabilities and motivations vary by gender. Thus, their approaches to the risks and uncertainties were also different. While men remain the primary decision makers in Benin households, women were found to respond in more active, dynamic and innovative ways (in terms of diversifying income sources) when dealing with rainfall variability. Men continued to engage in seasonal migra-tion or permanent relocation as a coping strategy, which is a common response to economic hardship. Although migration or relocation may increase household resilience for both those who stay and those who migrate, women are most likely to stay and continue to cultivate crops for household subsistence and thus bear the impacts of climate change.Games can make a differenceThus, the differences between male and female decisions lead to varying extents and ways of exposure to risk and vulnerability to climate change-related shocks and coping mechanisms in the long run. our study provides initial steps towards enhancing capacities for adaptation and resilience among rural subsistence farmers. We do so by addressing gender-specific responses to the effects of cli-mate change through anticipatory learning.

About the author

Grace Villamor is a senior researcher at ZEF. This research is funded by the WASCAL program (BMBF)

Contact: grace.villamor@uni-bonn