The WLE 2016 Annual Report > Facilitating community-led science

Farid Traoré

Role-playing games for better community resource management

Playing the Bagrépoly role-playing game with Bagré irrigation stakeholders in Burkina Faso.

The Bagré dam, the largest multi-purpose water infrastructure in Burkina Faso, lies on the White Volta River.  It is crucial to hydropower and food production as well as to regulating water flows, which help to reduce downstream floods.  Recently, agricultural investors have taken an interest in the areas around the dam in order to build large-scale irrigation schemes. The Government of Burkina Faso and the World Bank are encouraging this type of private investment because it has the potential to expand agricultural production and generate employment. 

But what does it mean for local smallholder farmers?

Farmers, who have traditionally relied on rainfall to supply their water needs, are now being offered parcels of land within these new irrigation schemes in exchange for their farms. Although the irrigated parcels of land they are offered are considerably smaller (one irrigated hectare for every four rainfed), Bagrépole, the agency overseeing irrigation development in the area, predicts that irrigated agriculture will be four times more productive than purely rainfed farming. 

This arrangement could potentially benefit both local farmers and agri-business investors but key questions need to be answered. What options are available for tailoring these irrigation investments so they are productive while also ensuring enhanced equity, promoting healthy ecosystems and minimizing any negative impacts? How can the needs and concerns of communities affected by large-scale development be heard and adequately taken into account? What is the right level of compensation? Will farmers' incomes be improved or reduced?

Simulating resource management through games

An experimental role-playing game - Bagrépoly - was developed as part of a WLE research project led by CIRAD to explore improved management of these common resources with all relevant stakeholders in the community. Bagrépôle staff, members of the Nakanbé Water Agency and researchers collectively developed Bagrépoly using participatory companion modelling principles, namely equity, transparency, adaptability and iteration.

The game was specifically designed to address the equity and environmental dynamics of large water infrastructure. It is applicable to Bagré dam but may also be usefully adapted to other agricultural water “hot-spots” in Africa and beyond. Among Bagré dam communities, the game was used as a way to engage all kinds of stakeholders. It allowed them to discuss issues such as the conditions under which farmers would accept changing the type of crops they produce.

Players express their views, listen to others, learn to adapt and to develop relations with actors they’re not used to interacting with in a simulation that is close to reality. This helps inform real life situations and the decisions they face.

Games go global

Bagrépoly joins an increasing number of resource management games that have been developed in other parts of the world, including for groundwater in India and surface water in Colombia, as well as for sanitation in Tamil Nadu. These games can help create dialogue and awareness among diverse stakeholders, while many enable ‘learning by doing’ and the virtual exploration of possible outcomes, where decisions can be made with limited risk.   

The common element in all of these games is that they highlight the importance of collective action and provide insights into what factors will affect whether or not relevant actors will cooperate with each other.

What more engaging ways can there be for building the capacity of decision makers, from the local to the national level, to effectively manage these resources and promote equity among their multiple users than through games that help to simulate reality but in a 'safe' learning environment?

Learn more about what WLE is doing to promote sustainable groundwater use.

More information about this project:

in 2015 wle: field tested 62 technologies and natural resource management practices, helped 125,000 farmers to apply new technologies or management practices, supported improved technologies or management practices on 2.5 million hectares

Influencing policy and decision making

In 2015 WLE: established 41 multi-stakeholder platforms and influenced 200 policy processes

Promoting innovative business models and institutions

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Facilitating community-led science

WLE in 2015 had 110,000 website visits and 43,000 views on CG-space and published 141 ISI publications and 94 open access publications

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