Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Farmville… or how social media can help

An interesting discussion was started last week by ILRI‘s Peter Ballantyne. Peter is not new to the reader of this blog or anybody who has an interest in agriculture and information. Peter, now Head of the Knowledge Management group at the CGIAR’s Livestock Research Center, is also president of IAALD… and our partner in crime in our AAA efforts.

In one of the mailing lists he contributes to, Peter shared a thought-provoking quote of a UK farmer, taken from Farmers Weekly Interactive:

“You may be familiar with social networking site Facebook. It includes games, one of which is called Farmville, where players manage a simulated farm. This American site is probably going to provide many of the 62 million-plus players it boasts with all the agricultural knowledge they will ever have.

If only it were that easy.”

If you are not familiar with FarmVille find out more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FarmVille

This simple message stirred the souls of the members of the mailing list… many comments were posted

My take home messages from the discussion:

1- FarmVille (and yes I tried it but found it very boring) is a game not based on expert knowledge.
– Crop rotation? No need apparently, you can keep on growing the same crop, over and over…and whoever designed it, evidently never heard of fertilizers.
Monocultures are king… now what happens in case of a plant disease? Luckily in FarmVille they never have diseases. Those plant pathologists can just take a long holiday!
– Apparently in FarmVille you can grow anything in the same place… agro ecological zoning does not feature here.

This comes with a danger. People are led to believe farming is easy… two clicks and just over three hours later..and voila… time to harvest your rice, a couple of clicks.. no mud, no sweat…and climate change? Just a hype!… but if FarmVille was based on true scenarios the realities would be different. Not less engaging, but different.

2- Millions of potential users, 62 Million!: FarmVille is a very popular game on Facebook… hence it has the potential of reaching millions of users. Again, a scientifically, facts based game could help share important information about agriculture and sensitize the public on important issues.

Let’s take a look at the World Food Programme (WFP) and their released Food Force game , an exciting game telling the story of a hunger crisis on the fictitious island of Sheylan. With its 6 modules, it is actually quite engaging, realistic, real, an important tool to help people understand what hunger is, who the hungry are, why people are hungry, what we can do to help. It does not show it is as easy as the life of a farmer in FarmVille. It is more realistic, engaging.

FAO’s Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger education initiative is not as engaging as an online video game, but still worth looking at as an important tools for preparing and encouraging young people to work together to help create a world free from hunger

Now… back to our FarmVille…. and the more recent version for iPhone (IFarm)… do we see the opportunity?

On-line games are virtual but how about if we linked on-line games to reality, simulating real life on a farm, growing crops in a credible eco-zone, infected by pests and disease, introducing new resistant varieties, adding variables such as climate change… help the gamer find solutions… add time pressure…. the responsibility of having a family to feed… but give a support network, build an on-line community…. the opportunities are plenty…

There definitely seems to be a great opportunity to build on the interest in on-line educational initiatives, facts-based, engaging, and using the pervasive social media tools!

Addendum: November 29th. Today Mr. Srirangapatna Srinivas, head of Library and Information Services at ICRISAT, died of cardiac arrest in India. Srinivas, an active and generous member of the Information Management Community in the CGIAR was one of the colleagues engaged in the discussion that inspired me to write this post. In his last posting in the discussion Srinivas brought to our attention the Narayanpur Express a simulation game designed and developed by the faculty and staff of Institute of Rural Management Anand in Gujarat India, way back in early 1980s.

He said: “The impact of the game can be summed up by the following quote by one of the past-student of the Institute-

“I was reading through the reports of farmers suicide and factors leading to it, got reminded of the “Narayanpur Express” simulation game during IRMA induction. That simulation game had touched me from within, when as a farmer with 2 acres of land and one buffalo with 4 members to feed under the vagaries of pest attack, uncertain rain and variable subsidy policy of the government, with my partner in the game Samantha we had to sell more than half of the land at the end of imaginary 3 years of the game. I felt very miserable selling the land which was the only asset in the game for me as a farmer but then that’s what farmers face in reality which was just a 4-5 hour game for us……” (http://shardagautam.blogspot.com/2009/09/vidharbha-farmers-suicide.html)

May his soul rest in peace.