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UZ scientist develops a drought and climate change adaptation game

by techzim
22 Feb 2011 at 05:10hrs | Views
When we visited the Research and Intellectual Expo at the University of Zimbabwe last week, we saw some very interesting displays. One such display was at the UZ Soil Science and Agriculture Engineering department where a senior lecturer, Dr Emmanuel Manzungu, is developing a computer-based game that helps farmers and their advisors to make strategic decisions about responding to drought and climate change.

The game was demonstrated by a graduate agricultural engineer, Tinashe Nyabako, who is providing the technical expertise in the development of the game. The display at the research expo was the first for the game.

Dr. Manzungu says the Windows desktop based game helps farmers and their advisors to make informed choices about what crops and varieties to grow in a particular agricultural season:

This has two advantages. First, unnecessary risk is avoided by better matching what is grown with rainfall characteristics of the season. Second, maximum possible crop output can be obtained. For example a farmer who grows a short season crop variety that is drought tolerant in a normal rainfall looses out on crop yield since the available genetic potential is not fully exploited. Conversely a farmer who plants a   long season variety in a season where there is less than normal rainfall will incur low to zero yields. This is made possible by the game's ability to run different scenarios through the use of rainfall and socio-economic data such as family size.

Operations Survive Demonstration

Tinashe Nyabako explains the Operations Survive game to a visitor

According to Dr Manzungu inspiration came from the threat to food and economic security posed by drought and climate change that Zimbabwe and southern Africa faces. He added that the game makes use of widely available technologies and that gaming is part of people's everyday life.

Dr. Manzungu explained that the game is meant for farmers who have computers and farmers' advisors such as extension workers at district level where computers are available.  The game can however be used at the household level as well as the higher levels (ward, district, province) where strategic decisions are made.

The game itself is called "Operation Survive".  The team has been working on it for just under three months and release of the first prototype is scheduled for end of June this year. This prototype will cater for the maize crop only and other crops will be included in future releases.

On the future of Operation Survive, Dr Manzungu says that the plan is to improve the operational aspects of the game by including other crops and varieties in the package of options, updating information upon which the game is based and addressing interactive aspects of the game. "As with most things," Dr Manzungu remarked, "this depends on the availability of funding."

Source - techzim