Scenario-planning helps small-scale farming

- A promising tool for development, say researchers

Corn harvesting in Bangala, Tanzania. Photo: J. Lokrantz/Azote
- Identifying alternative development paths and the opportunities and threats associated with them can produce robust investments in small-scale agriculture. Such scenario planning approaches have the potential to improve the robustness of development decision making, particularly in turbulent regions.
This is argued in a new article produced by Stockholm Resilience Centre researchers Line Gordon, Garry Peterson, Elin Enfors together with Deborah Bossio from International Water Management Insitute.
The article, Making Investments in Dryland Development Work: Participatory Scenario Planning in the Makanya Catchment, Tanzania, was recently published in the journal Ecology & Society.

Predicting living conditions in 2030
People farming in the world´s drylands are some of the world´s poorest people, their populations are growing, but they have to cope with a variable climate that causes frequent crop failures. Consequently, many governments, NGOs, and scientists are making large efforts to improve productivity in small-scale farming particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
The recent development of cheap, farm-scale water management technologies offer the potential for farmers to improve their farm productivity and reduce their vulnerability to drought.  However, often many development investments have failed.
To develop better approaches to investments in water management, Enfors, Gordon, Peterson and Bossio worked with famers, local officials, and scientists in Tanzania to identify alternative ways livelihoods, farming practices, and ecosystems could change over the next 25 years.
- We had two parallel objectives with the scenario planning exercise in Makanya, says author Elin Enfors. 
- The first was to analyze how, investments in water system technologies would play out over a range of alternative, but plausible futures, and the second was to initiate a discussion locally about the catchments future development.
Images and narratives help integrate scientific understanding
The four scenarios were all based on the present-day situation in Makanya, but examined the consequences of different future changes in local governance, economy, climate, health, and values.
- By using images and narratives to integrate scientific understanding and local knowledge we were able to present a richer concept of their possible future to the community, says co-author Garry Peterson.
They used the scenarios to identify how the users, usefulness, and cost of different water systems technologies could vary. The analysis revealed that water system technologies could be beneficial across all of the scenarios, but the type of water management technologies that would be most suitable differed.
Assessing hopes, fears and beliefs
The researchers argue that building capacity for experimentation among farmers is key to upgrading their farming systems, as this will generate benefits over a range of alternative futures.
- Developing participatory scenarios was a useful tool to rapidly assess some of the major hopes, fears and beliefs about the future among project participants. Such an overview is useful in any project, particularly in its start-up phase, says co-author Line Gordon.
Participatory scenario planning is a useful tool for integrating research- and development projects in the larger context, as it increases the understanding of events and processes that may either challenge the project or provide opportunities for it, concludes Elin Enfors.
- This is particularlly important for development projects, because project funders often assume that the future unfold in a way that fits their project, and consquently projects fail when unatnticapted events occur, says Peterson.
Four scenarios with different outcomes
The first scenario, entitled Agricultural advance, describes a future with a stable climate, and a strong national economy with investments by Tanzanian businessmen in food-processing industries. These investments drive the catchment from a subsistence-based production system to that of a more market-oriented one. The development improves the wellbeing of many farmers, but it also damages downstream water quality and availability.
The second scenario, Managing on the margins, describes a drier climate which makes the farming-based livelihoods difficult. In combination with institutional failure, this leads to societal fragmentation, as the weak leadership at local, regional and national levels fails to deal with the situation. Most of the Makanya population consequently survive by “managing on the margins" with a vicious cycle of declining farm productivity and reduced access to natural resources.
The third scenario, Community cohesion, describes how people come together to address shared problems and where local leadership is complemented by NGOs who enable village development projects. People still rely on small-scale farming, but incomes rise due to an increasing focus on high-value organic production and new income opportunities such as ecotourism. Community living standards gradually improve, but livelihoods security is still closely linked to rainfall.
The fourth and last scenario, Industry imperial, projects a future where the economy is growing and national as well as foreign investors are attracted to Makanya to establish new enterprises. Although farming persists in highlands, agriculture loses importance as people engage in mining or start working in factories. Furthermore, some of the villages in the catchment grow together, forming smaller towns where people adopt a more urbanized lifestyle.

Source: Enfors, E.I., Gordon, L.J., Peterson, G.D., Bossio B., 2008, Making Investments in Dryland Development Work: Participatory Scenario Planning in the Makanya catchment, Tanzania. Ecology and Society 13(2): 42.

See video interview with Garry Peterson on how scenario planning is useful:

Loading the player ...



Enfors, E.I., Gordon, L.J., Peterson, G.D., Bossio B., 2008, Making Investments in Dryland Development Work: Participatory Scenario Planning in the Makanya catchment, Tanzania. Ecology and Society 13(2): 42.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201