Gaming and simulation to explore resilience of contested agricultural landscapes

Published on
May 6, 2014

Over the past decades, impacts of market changes and legislation promoting nature conservation greatly increased in small-scale farming communities. The ability of these communities to deal with the effects of these changes is essential for the continuation of life in rural areas throughout the world. On May 14, 2014 at 16.00 hrs, Erika Speelman will defend her thesis "Gaming and simulation to explore resilience of contested agricultural landscapes" that addresses some important methods for small farming communities to cope with these issues. The field work for this thesis was performed in a Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico.


Over the past decades, smallholder farming communities have become increasingly affected by an ever larger number of (unexpected) non-local economic and institutional drivers. At the same time, also environmental consequences of past and current agricultural activities have become more apparent. Consequently, farmer’s decision-making is now part of a complex social-ecological system in which stakeholders from various scales and levels exert power to influence smallholders’ decision-making. The capacity of rural communities to adapt to this fast-changing environment is key in securing the continuation of  livelihoods in rural parts of the world. Improving the adaptive capacity of rural communities has been proposed as the largest challenge of the century, especially in contested areas were the interests of non-local stakeholders often strongly conflict with those of local communities. Although the attributes that underpin adaptive capacity are widely agreed upon in literature, (i) empirical evidence on how rural communities can construct trajectories of change based on adaptation, and (ii) tools that can facilitate the development of adaptive capacity are still lacking. This PhD thesis addressed both these issues. This research was based on extensive fieldwork in a usufruct community in the buffer zone of a Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico, where  objectives to conserve nature and produce food make completing claims on land and on a series of gaming and simulation workshops including a variety of stakeholders. Data showed that communities can strengthen their resilience to the sometimes strong negative effects of changes in legislation and markets. Improved local organization, diversification of land use and cooperation among farmers proved essential in this process. Four gaming and simulation tools were developed and applied with various stakeholders within this thesis. Results showed that the understanding of difficult concepts and processes among participants improved as a result of the gaming and simulation tools and that the workshops provided an opportunity to share ideas.


Complex systems, resilience thinking theory, communal decision-making, agent-based modeling, serious games