Gamified research sheds new light on how to balance agriculture and conservation

Gamified research sheds new light on how to balance agriculture and conservation
The game interface as it appears on a tablet. Credit: University of Stirling

Farmers are more likely to protect wildlife on their land if they trust their local communities and government, according to a new University of Stirling study.

The findings emerged from an innovative research project, which involved farmers in Orkney and Gabon playing a on an electronic tablet, in which they had to choose how to deal with that would damage their crops—geese in Orkney and elephants in Gabon.

In the game, designed by Stirling researchers, the farmers had to choose whether to kill the wildlife, scare it away or sacrifice some crops to allow the wildlife to co-exist on their land. The results provide an important insight into how farmers make decisions when balancing biodiversity with food production.

Farmers chose not to eradicate wildlife

"We were surprised at the results," said lead researcher Professor Nils Bunnefeld, of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Stirling. "Shooting and eradicating the animals was perfectly possible in the game, and would have been the easiest option for the farmers, because if you scare them they will come back and eat your crops. But they didn't choose to kill all the wildlife, they said, actually, wildlife is a part of our life."

Professor Bunnefeld and his team were funded by the European Research Council's ConFooBio project to build the game, using Netlogo software. The game was then played by 260 farmers in Gabon and 84 in Orkney.

"The conflict between agricultural needs and conservation is increasingly complex," said Professor Bunnefeld. "This research showed that the farmers' actions towards conservation in the game actually depended on the they had in the system, rather than only the points—or, in real terms, the money—they were offered.

Trust and perceptions of fairness were as important as money

"In Gabon, elephants are protected—killing them is not allowed by law. Therefore, getting direct responses on killing behavior is difficult because of its illegal nature. The game provided a safe environment to explore local farmers' propensity to engage in elephant killing. In the game, we found that where the farmers felt they had a say in , and where they lived near a and had seen local investment, they showed more tolerance for elephants than farmers who felt they had no say in management, and those that lived near logging concessions.

"In Orkney, where you can apply for a license to shoot geese, the positive effect of the financial rewards on farmers' pro-conservation behavior was greatest when farmers had higher levels of trust in other farmers in their community. Farmers who thought for goose damage was unequally distributed in Scotland were less likely to sacrifice crops for geese."

The game also introduced different kinds of financial incentives—increasing payments for the size of land spared for wildlife, for example, and a fixed payment through subsidies—which did encourage pro-conservation behavior.

"It was the interaction with trust and equity issues that showed the biggest shift in behavior," Professor Bunnefeld said. "Policy makers tend to focus on investment and for farmers, but this research showed trust in those making decisions, and having a say in policy and management, was as important."

Research partner Dr. Sarobidy Rakotonarivo, now of the Université d'Antananarivo, Madagascar, said: "Our study highlights the importance of understanding the social and political context at a local scale, when trying to find beneficial outcomes for different stakeholder groups in conservation. Furthermore, it demonstrates how experimental games can be used to help address conservation conflicts in a wide range of settings."

The research was carried out in partnership between the University of Stirling and the Gabon National Parks Agency (ANPN).

The Gabon research is detailed in the paper "The role of incentive-based instruments and social equity in conservation conflict interventions," published in Ecology and Society.

The Orkney research is detailed in the paper "Experimental evidence for conservation conflict interventions: The importance of financial payments, community trust and equity attitudes," published in People and Nature.


Explore further

Playing games to address conservation conflicts

More information: Sarobidy O. Rakotonarivo et al, The role of incentive-based instruments and social equity in conservation conflict interventions, Ecology and Society (2021). DOI: 10.5751/ES-12306-260208

Onjamirindra S. Rakotonarivo et al, Experimental evidence for conservation conflict interventions: The importance of financial payments, community trust and equity attitudes, People and Nature (2020). DOI: 10.1002/pan3.10155

Journal information: Ecology and Society

Citation: Gamified research sheds new light on how to balance agriculture and conservation (2021, May 26) retrieved 18 January 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2021-05-gamified-agriculture.html
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