Blog How can a board game promote agroecology? Experts experience the Happy Family Board Game at the 2022 Tropentag Conference

What would you choose to invest in: a kitchen garden, a cow, visit to a clinic, fruit tree, seeds or school fees? 

The 2022 Tropentag Conference, held on 14-16 September at the Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague, zoomed in on the role of agroecology in feeding the world. Using a myriad of approaches, the conference reviewed recent research results that address challenges facing global food production from the points of view of the researchers, farmers, development workers among other players.  

Within the scope of this theme, Africa-based researchers from the Food Environment and Consumer Behavior research area of the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT collaborated with the EaTSANE project team to organize a pre-conference workshop linking agroecological practices, dietary practices and human health. The workshop participants were invited to play “The Happy Family Board Game”, an innovation of the EaTSANE project which combines key lessons learned from an interdisciplinary participatory research to mimic the real-life occurrences of a typical East-African smallholder farmer.  

A game to understand families' choices

The goal of the board game is to show the interconnectedness of households’ decisions in agriculture, nutrition and value chains, in a playful way. Why use a board game? Research has shown that board games, which can be educational tools for both adults and children, may influence consumer behavior by enhancing the interpersonal interactions and motivation of participants as well as developing decision-making skills. In short, players can be better equipped to minimize any potential negative consequences that surround their daily life choices.   

The workshop attracted 21 diverse online and in person participants, and was facilitated by five experts with various backgrounds including soil scientist, gender expert and a nutritionist. Irmgard Jordan, a CIM Expert at the Alliance and part of the team that developed the game at the EaTSANE project, described the game to the workshop participants as being about building synergies and promoting co-creation of knowledge.  

Let’s see the game in action:  

Participants try the board game at Tropentag.

The workshop participants were assigned to four groups representing four families with a household head, represented by a male participant like in a typical African family. They were provided with 20 seeds and asked to make decisions on how to invest these seeds following the farm cycle of land preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting and post-harvest time. These events are interrupted by market and activity days as well as community events where activities and experiences are shared. The “families” were warned that if they forget to invest in a diverse diet they would be disqualified. On market days the families were offered a range of investments, like a fruit tree, chicken, cow, kitchen garden, or seeds for their farm. Apart from that, four activities were offered to the families: “(i) Husband and wife attend a training together,  invest (ii) in a family dinner every day, in (iii) a visit a clinic or (iv) collect wild berries”.  

The Happy Family Game starts with preliminary decision making. During the game suggestions by the facilitators may help in further decision-making by providing information on opportunities for improving agriculture, nutrition, and marketing. 

“I [the soil expert] could offer, for example, a training on how to improve soil fertility…” 

Promoters of the joint family dinner argued: “Family dinners may provide lots of opportunities, e.g. parents may introduce children to new foods or parents may discuss together which decisions to make and where to invest”. Decisions were made according to opportunities and disasters that arose like in everyday life. One team pulled the disaster card: “The husband spent every evening in the bar this week” when the “husband” had left the team to grab a coffee for himself and decisions were taken without him... Another card told the families who had chosen to invest in a cow that their cow “just given birth” and they could take another cow card. In this workshop each new opportunity created trade-offs, as mentioned by Dr. Thomas Hilger (A soil expert at the University of Hohenheim and one of the developers of the game). He explained: “Cows can be interesting because of their production of manure; this is one important point which needs to be addressed when we look at soil health”. The families expressed their worries: “But the cows need to be fed!”. Thomas responded: “This is discussed in the second training where we introduce the ‘three food strata system’ where we cultivate plots to produce fodder…” 

The goal: encourage joint decision making in the family

While the Happy Family Board Game was designed with smallholder famers as players in mind, the workshop participants were excited by the game as they had a chance for themselves to understand the linkages between the different topics related to soil, plant and human health.  

The participants, all experts in their fields, reflected they had each learned something through the discussions and the inputs given but also through the disaster and opportunity cards which influenced the family decision making. One participant concluded: “I really loved it, it is really interactive. I wish we could replicate it in many more areas”.  

If you are interested to learn more about the Happy Family Board Game feel free to contact us: