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Agriculture & Computer Science Postgrads Team Up

2016/02/04 11:19:05 AM

Move Over Farmville: Agriculture & Computer Science Postgrads Team Up on African Farmer Game

In late 2015, Dr John Thompson and Mr James Jackson, of the Institute of Development Studies and the School of Engineering and Informatics respectively at the University of Sussex in the UK, visited the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) ahead of the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture African Edition Conference.

They spent the day in a workshop with postgraduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff from the discipline of Computer Science and various agricultural disciplines to introduce an interactive computer simulation entitled ‘African Farmer Game’. Thompson and Jackson are developing the game in partnership with British and African colleagues.



Postgraduate students and staff from SAEES & Computer Science with the African Farmer developers

                                                                                                [Photo: Christine Cuénod]


The software simulation is designed to assist in complex agricultural decision-making processes by placing the user in the position of an African farmer and his or her household, within parameters determined by location, crop types and more. The player must make decisions that the farmer would have to make, decisions that have consequences in the game. Decisions take into account risks, opportunities and vulnerabilities a rural farming household in Africa would face, including climate, disease, food insecurity and market access, presenting the user with practical and ethical dilemmas.

The workshop combined expertise from Computer Science and agricultural disciplines to stimulate exchanges about the use of computer games to simulate agricultural decision-making. Interactions between participants provided valuable feedback to the developers.

Professor Albert Modi, Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) explained that the game worked on a sustainable agriculture model wherein the user must enable his household to farm a certain crop under the conditions of the chosen area, including socio-economic factors.

Students were enthusiastic about the exercise, demonstrating the scope for use of the simulation in teaching. Agricultural students shared knowledge about agricultural practices, while Computer Science students identified technical gaps in the programme.

Professor Aderemi Adewumi of Computer Science recommended the taking of the game to a more advanced level.

‘The focus is on agriculture, and how a household fares making decisions in the presence of uncertainty,’ said one Computer Science postgraduate in the feedback session, pointing out additional non-agricultural elements that could be considered.

‘The point is to come up with a situation where subsistence or smallholder farmers can produce enough food; if families are not fed, famine and displacements follow,’ said Modi.

Modi recommended the introduction of the concept of agripreneurship and marketing techniques, as well as of indigenous knowledge affecting decision-making of smallholder farmers.

‘This game ties in well with our research as we work a lot on concepts of sustainable agriculture and smallholder farming; our research group agrees that the global interpretation of smallholder farmers not being entrepreneurs is not correct,’ said Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, a postdoctoral research fellow in Crop Science at SAEES.

The game utilises open-source software that can be collaborated on and used freely, and developed further by interested parties.

Christine Cuenod

Public Relations

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