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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Playing be a coffee farmer

Coffee farmers in Colombia can be thought of decision makers with goals and strategies. Their decisions and behaviors towards adaptation depend on individual livelihood goals, beliefs concerning the likelihood of uncertain events and personal motives. As a result, farmers have different perceptions on how climate risks, among other threats, will affect their individual goals.

Within the MEbA project, Microfinance for Ecosystem-based-Adaptation to Climate Change, researchers are currently testing different methods on how to better understand the perceptions and decision making process of farmers for adaptation. The MEbA project is looking for strategic investment in activities that will improve communities’ resilience to climate risks and ensure the sustainability of ecosystem services on which these communities depend.

In order to test Role Games as a useful tool to analyze farmers’ decision process for adaptation, we conducted a workshop in a coffee farming community near Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander Department of Colombia, situated on the hills of the Andeans Cordillera Oriental. Twelve farmers attended the workshop and were all coffee farmers from the region. At the workshop, farmers were firstly introduced to the rules of Role Games. Two games of five rounds were played; each round represented an entire coffee producing cycle. In the first game farmers played as individuals and in the second game farmers were placed in groups of three to four where they collectively made decisions towards adaptation. At the beginning of each round, farmers were offered different adaptation measures:

• convert their coffee system from conventional to an agroforestry system
• invest in practices for soil conservation
• diversifying their income through growing supplementary crops

In addition, they could buy for each round a seasonal climate forecast provided by the National Weather Forecasting Service.

For the individual games, farmers started the game on equal conditions. Each farmer had one hectare of land and five million Colombian Pesos, just enough to buy a conventional coffee plot and to have all inputs and labor costs for producing the first round. Farmers started by investing in an agroforestry system hat to lend money before starting. For the first round the government was promoting this practice and the farmers didn’t have to pay interests, from the second year on they had to pay 10% interest (per coffee season) at the end of each year for a negative balance after selling their produce. Although the conventional coffee system was producing higher yields, the agroforestry system using organic inputs could get slightly higher prices on the market and the agroforestry system also produces additional incomes from fruit trees or wood selling.

With this activity, farmers were able to simulate real life scenarios which allowed them to calculate farm costs and potential incomes and make decisions accordingly. In addition, farmers had to decide if and after what round they would buy different adaptation measures. In this activity the prices for measures were stable, but farmers did not know what would happen to climate and market prices. Farmers, for example, were facing the risk of climate shocks, like droughts or heavy rains which resulted in landslides and by extension crop loss. Also the market prices were fluctuating both for conventional coffee and organic coffee. We estimated the live costs for their families to be five million per year, which they had to include into their calculations.

The game was designed to have farmers be confronted with different climate shocks. As such several droughts, excessive rainfall years as well as years with normal climatic conditions were included; but prices for coffee declined because of different reasons. For example a year of heavy rainfalls could cause landslides and reduce farmers coffee produce up to 70% on a conventional system, particularly if they didn’t invest in soil conservation practices in a previous round. In general the game was designed so that farmers who did not invest in adaptation practices would have lost their starting capital at the end of five rounds. Also, if they bought all measures at the beginning of the game the interest starting from the second year would deplete most of their income after they sold their produce.

During the first rounds scarcely any farmer was investing in climate prognostics and most of them got affected by the first climatic event. Because all of them started investing in the agroforestry system and they couldn’t buy other measures and got surprised by the drought of year two.


After some rounds, farmers started buying the climate prognostics and invested in adaptation measures more wisely. At the end of the first game, some farmers were able to turn their initial losses into gain, that is, they could have doubled their starting capital by the end of round five. Others couldn’t recuperate from year two drought or invested too late in the other adaptation measures and ended up with almost zero capital. Farmer 7 however did the best, so much so that at the end of the game he had three times his initial capital.

For the second game, farmers were organized into groups where they collectively made decisions on how they would invest their money. Based on previous round of activities, farmers were better prepared and consequently invested in adaptation practices as early as they could. The rules for this game however were slightly altered, the time and intensity of climatic events were changed, and prices were getting higher for organic coffee while prices for conventional coffee were declining towards the end of the game. Each group received 25 million Pesos and 5 hectares of land to commence.


As was expected, farmers had learnt from the first game and thus invested in climate prognostics each year. The winning group, Group 2, didn’t invest in the agroforestry system in the first round, but started investing in adaption practices and changed their system to agroforestry later. Because of higher incomes at the beginning and not having to pay interests, they could finally reach the 100 million Pesos mark and become the winners of game two.

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