Roleplaying Agroecology

What choices will you make?

By The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Intercropping plantain and rubber (2014-04-02) by Julius Atia/ICRAFThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Agroecology is a science, set of practices and movement

... that uses ecological principles to make our global food systems more sustainable and resilient to climate change. Common practices include planting trees on farms (e.g. agroforestry) and using organic materials instead of chemical fertilizers.

Land conversion (2017-10-07) by Patrick Shepherd/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Sustainable change = complex choices

Producing food more sustainably means people around the world – from smallholder farmers to activists, governments and corporations – need to work together to make some big choices. We need to build food systems that work with nature, not against it.

Community cooperation in Peru (2020-02-27) by Marlon del Aguila/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

What choices will you make?

Play along as a 1) smallholder farmer, 2) policy maker and 3) palm-oil plantation manager to learn more about the real-life decisions that need to happen to support agroecological transitions. 

DISCLAIMER: While the following examples are based on real events, some creative liberties were taken to imagine long-term outcomes and alternative scenarios. There is no one answer for how to practice agroecology.

Collecting fruit (2013-03-14) by Ollivier Girard/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

1. Smallholder farmer

You are a 56-year-old smallholder farmer living in Séloghin, Burkina Faso. You grow rice, corn and peanuts. But recently, you've noticed that wild plants that you also eat — including shea, wild raisin and locust bean — are disappearing from the forests. What do you do? 

Gardening around Lake Bam (2013-03-06) by Ollivier Girard/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Choice A: continue life as normal

 As times change, you accept that society and the environment will have to evolve without these plants. You can live without wild foods such as locust beans. 

Collecting 'vine' (2013-03-05) by Ollivier Girard/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Choice B: plant a community food forest

You and your neighbours will share the resources and responsibilities from the forest.

Outcomes:

A) Continue life as normal: The first few years, everything goes well. But native trees have continued disappearing due to deforestation and climate change. You feel sad that your grandchildren can’t remember what a wild raisin is, even though they used to be everywhere in the forests. On top of that, your crops haven't been producing as well as usual. Without the ecosystem services — including water and soil improvement — from the trees, you will have to spend more on fertilizer for the farm.

B) Plant a community food forest: It is hard work to start a community food forest. it requires a lot of planning and negotiations with your neighbours. However, a few years down the road you begin to see the benefits of your labour. The native trees that your community uses for food and traditional medicine are thriving. In addition, you are making money selling the forest fruits and vegetables and eat a well-balanced diet because of all the micronutrients in the tree-foods.

Trees “for the grandchildren” in a community forest (2019-05-31) by CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Learn about the benefits that the real-life farmer, Bibata Ouedraogo, received from the community food forest she helped create.

Climate delegates (2009-12-10) by Niel Palmer/CIATThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

2. Policymaker

You are a policy maker in Sri Lanka. For decades, the country has relied on imported artificial fertilizers to grow rice and other crops for export. However, health problems associated with the fertilizers are on the rise and the environment is becoming polluted. What do you do?

Cocoa agroforestry plantation (2017-05-03) by Ollivier Girard/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Choice A: restrict or ban artificial fertilizers

Instead, you will promote a national organic farming industry and pledge to support farmers during the transition period.

Fertilizing palm oil (2010-04-01) by Agus Andrianto/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Choice B: continue using the fertilizers

... but invest more in public healthcare, personal protective gear for farmers who use dangerous chemicals and promote environmental clean-up programs.

Outcomes:

A) Restrict or ban artificial fertilizers: Many people are unhappy with your decision; they worry the change will mean smaller harvests and create food insecurity. However, the newly-founded organic farming industry is cheaper and more sustainable than buying from overseas corporations. Despite the criticism, you feel optimistic the new policy will make the country a healthier place for future generations, reduce pollution and make the country less dependent on foreign agrochemical companies.

B) Continue using the fertilizers: Rice harvests are high, but so are the rates of cancer and chronic kidney disease (CKD) in farming areas. In spite of your healthcare investments and clean-up programs, there is a steady flow of new fertilizer that runs into the rivers and pollutes the water. Your government is also spending a lot to import agrochemicals, which has gotten harder due to an economic crisis. Government budget cuts are on the horizon, and it’s not clear where they will come from.

Sri Lanka Bans Artificial Fertilizers and Agrochemicals, president’s address (2021-06-15) by CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Watch the real-life Sri Lankan president, His Excellency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, announce a national ban on agrochemicals and artificial fertilizers. This speech was given during the launch of the Agroecology Transformative Partnership Platform (TPP) side event at CFS48.

Oil palm plantation (2017-01-20) by Nanang Sujana/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

3. Business manager

You manage several palm oil plantations in Indonesia and just bought a new piece of land to develop in Kutai Kartanegara. The demand for oil palm is booming; it is used in everything from toothpaste to food and soap. You want the new plantation to do well, but first...

Palm nut kernels (2020-03-10) by Ricky Martin/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Choice A: join a sustainable palm oil certification program

...which requires you to conserve sections of primary forest on the plantation land. You will also have to work with local farmers and government to share resources such as river and fishing access.

Oil palm plantation (2010-12-12) by Iddy Farmer/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Choice B: develop the land as fast as possible

...and begin reaping the rewards. 

Outcomes:

A) Join a sustainable palm oil certification program: It takes a lot of time and effort to train your employees to use sustainable practices and to coordinate with all the stakeholders. However, as time passes, the benefits begin to outweigh the costs. Your business has gained access to sustainable markets with higher profit margins, and the forests you conserved are thriving. You also have developed good relationships with local community members and governors, making business run smoother.

B) Develop the land as fast as possible: You cut down the forests and immediately begin planting oil palm. Business is doing well, but there's a rumour the government is planning to require sustainable practices and fine operations like yours. You are also fighting local community members because the plantation fertilizers have polluted the river. On top of that, the deforested land is prone to fires, and your staff have already put out two this year. The best path forward is unclear.

Role playing game inspires perspectives on Indonesia’s palm oil certification standards (2020-12-05) by CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Learn more about a game that brings palm oil stakeholders — like this fictional plantation owner — together to discuss sustainable palm oil certification and best practices.

Community leader restores soil (2015-08-20) by Georgina Smith/CIATThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Thank you for playing!

Are you happy with your choices? 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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