Playing with climate change – through the fun comes a serious message

By Ann Turinayo and Katie Taft

Laughter fills the small conference room in Nairobi, Kenya. After two days of talking about the gender, land and climate change issues impacting rural communities in East and Southern Africa, participants of IFAD’s regional Knowledge Management and Capacity Building Forum welcomed the break from powerpoint presentations.
“It doesn’t matter, adults and children love to play games,” said Périn Saint-Ange, Director of IFAD’s East and Southern Africa Division as he looks on at IFAD staff members and partners playing “the River Climate Game” developed by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. Games are a fun but serious way of helping people, even development practitioners, unpack the complexities and uncertainties of climate change. 
FAO's McDowell gives instructions to the
two villages ©IFAD/Ann Turinayo
Following the instructions of game-master and FAO food security consultant, Stephen McDowell, participants divided themselves into two “villages” or teams across a “river” of rope that cut the room in half. Both villages were told they were growing a traditional crop of maize. With the changing seasons, however, the two villages are told they are living a life of chance because when it rains too much, they lose their harvest and when the sun shines too much, they lose as well. These days, it is rare that the villages have suitable weather to get a good harvest. “Your chances are that one out of three seasons will give you a harvest considered good enough,” McDowell told the players.

Once the game is in play, each village is given five seeds to represent the crop they are growing. Then, in comes an NGO with a supposed solution for the two villages. They are introducing two new crops – cassava and rice. The villagers have to choose to grow either of these two crops and give up their traditional crop of maize. Some choose cassava, others rice, and still others stick to maize. Unfortunately, the NGO has no guarantee that choosing either of the new crops will necessarily mean a good yield. “The NGO does not control the weather patterns,” McDowell reminds the players. “You have no choice, you just need to plant, plant, plant and hope that you are on the right side of fate.”
Payback time - Gender Specialist, Elizabeth Ssendiwala
returns her seeds. ©IFAD/Ann Turinayo 

A chosen “rainmaker” tosses die to determine the fates of the villagers. If it falls on six, it means a lot of rainfall. For those growing rice, they are given an extra seed (a lot of rain is good for growing rice) while those growing maize and cassava lose a seed. If a person loses all their seeds, it means they are “ruined” and have to leave the villages – maybe go try their luck in the city. At the end of the play, only a few people have seeds in their hands – some are the cassava growers, others are the rice growers and some are the maize growers.
"I will grow maize," says Nadine Gbossa, Kenya Country
Director ©IFAD/Ann Turinayo
“The thing that occurs to me when watching is there is always someone who will survive – maybe it comes down to chance, or maybe it is something else,” McDowell comments once the game has ended and the laughter has died down.
“We don’t always know what is in the best interest of the rural people themselves. For example, did anyone really win by staying in the village, did they win by going to the city? The truth is that we don’t actually know as it is not an exact science and we need to consider that.”
No business as usual
The implications of the game further emphasize the messages shared by the presenters at the ESA forum – in dealing with climate change-related issues, it cannot be business as usual. As Saint-Ange said in his opening remarks, “we have to reshape our agendas to be able to address the various cross-cutting issues such as land, climate change and gender.”
The policy aspects that create an enabling environment for smallholders to thrive even with the climate change issues also have to be put into consideration. Integrating climate change, land and gender issues in policy dialogue, as well as in project design and implementation will be brought to the fore in all IFAD operations.