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The Azteca Chess experience: learning how to share concepts of ecological complexity with small coffee farmers

Luís García-Barrios, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Mexico
Juana Cruz-Morales, Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo, Campus Chiapas, México
John Vandermeer, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan
Ivette Perfecto, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-09184-220237

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Abstract

Small-scale coffee farmers understand certain complex ecological processes, and successfully navigate some of the challenges emerging from the ecological complexity on their farms. It is generally thought that scientific knowledge is able to complement farmers’ knowledge. However, for this collaboration to be fruitful, the gap between the knowledge frameworks of both farmers and scientists will need to be closed. We report on the learning results of 14 workshops held in Chiapas, Mexico during 2015 in which 117 small-scale coffee farmers of all genders (30% women) and ages who had little schooling were exposed by researchers to a natural history narrative, a multispecies network representation, a board game, and a series of graphical quizzes, all related to a nine-species complex ecological network with potential for autonomous control of the ongoing and devastating coffee rust epidemic that was affecting them. Farmers’ retention and understanding of direct and indirect bilateral interactions among organisms was assessed with different methods to elucidate the effect of adding Azteca Chess gaming sessions to a detailed and very graphical lecture. Evaluation methods that were better adapted to farmers’ conditions improved learning scores and showed statistically significant age effect (players older than 40 had lower retention scores) and gaming effect (lower retention of interactions included in the lecture but not in the game). The combination of lecture and game sessions helped participants better understand cascades of trait-mediated interactions. Participants’ debriefings confirmed qualitatively that they learned that beneficial organisms and interactions occur on their farms, and that gaming was enjoyable, motivating, and critical to grasp complex interactions. Many of the farmers concluded that the outcome of these interactions is not unique and not always in favor of rust control but is context dependent. Many concluded that there are feasible things they can do on their farms, derived from what they learned, to favor potential autonomous pest control.

Key words

autonomous pest control; coffee farmers; ecological complexity game; educational board-game; farmer scientist interaction; learning complexity; shade coffee; trait-mediated interactions

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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