Environment Systems and Decisions

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 23–32 | Cite as

Using participatory modeling processes to identify sources of climate risk in West Africa

  • Laura Schmitt OlabisiEmail author
  • Saweda Liverpool-Tasie
  • Louie RiversIII
  • Arika Ligmann-Zielinska
  • Jing Du
  • Riva Denny
  • Sandra Marquart-Pyatt
  • Amadou Sidibé


Participatory modeling has been widely recognized in recent years as a powerful tool for dealing with risk and uncertainty. By incorporating multiple perspectives into the structure of a model, we hypothesize that sources of risk can be identified and analyzed more comprehensively compared to traditional ‘expert-driven’ models. However, one of the weaknesses of a participatory modeling process is that it is typically not feasible to involve more than a few dozen people in model creation, and valuable perspectives on sources of risk may therefore be absent. We sought to address this weakness by conducting parallel participatory modeling processes in three countries in West Africa with similar climates and smallholder agricultural systems, but widely differing political and cultural contexts. Stakeholders involved in the agricultural sector in Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria participated in either a scenario planning process or a causal loop diagramming process, in which they were asked about drivers of agricultural productivity and food security, and sources of risk, including climate risk, between the present and mid-century (2035–2050). Participants in all three workshops identified both direct and indirect sources of climate risk, as they interact with other critical drivers of agricultural systems change, such as water availability, political investment in agriculture, and land availability. We conclude that participatory systems methods are a valuable addition to the suite of methodologies for analyzing climate risk and that scientists and policy-makers would do well to consider dynamic interactions between drivers of risk when assessing the resilience of agricultural systems to climate change.


Participatory modeling Food security West Africa System dynamics Scenarios 



This study was funded by the National Science Foundation Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (Grant No. 1416730), the USAID/Nigeria funded Food Security Policy Innovation Lab Associate Award, contract number AID1-620-LA-15-00001, and the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community SustainabilityMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Morrill Hall of AgricultureMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Department of Forestry and Environmental ResourcesNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  4. 4.Geography DepartmentMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  5. 5.Department of Construction ScienceTexas A & M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  6. 6.Department of SociologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  7. 7.International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid TropicsSamankoMali
  8. 8.Institut Polytechnique Rural de Formation et de Recherche Appliquée de KatibougouKoulikoroMali

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