A game to explain food, inequality and climate

Catherine Masterman introduces a game, ‘Global Harvest’, to bring home the issues of food security and climate this harvest season.

Apparently, despite the best efforts of Blue Peter, my children still think climate change is primarily about animals. So, I puzzled about a childrens and families activity around this year’s Harvest Festival – happening as it is in the run-up to the Leaders’ gathering on Climate Change in November. How do you bring home in a way that children can grasp, the massive impact that more frequent weather extremes, and changing rainfall has on the difference between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to food?

There are loads of great resources out there, (see Tearfund, for example) but I was short of time to hunt around. The combination of ‘Settlers of Catan’ and ‘Hamster Race’ seemed to resonate well, so I’m sharing in case it’s useful for others puzzling how to address similar questions with a small group of primary aged children.


The aim of the game is to end up with a sufficient harvest to feed the families in your ‘country’. Whether you do or not depends a lot on the luck of a coin toss and a draw of the ‘weather cards’.

Each team decides on a name and designs a ‘flag’ for their country, choosing a name and inventing some aspects of it. (You could use real countries, but I wonder if they have more emotional connection if the country is ‘theirs’).

Each ‘country’ has the same number of households to feed. Each household needs three different types of harvest to live. Using cards from the ‘Settlers of Catan’, I used sheep, wheat and trees.

Each country starts with one card of each type of harvest and some coins. (For older children you could unevenly distribute the coins) You retain a pile of harvest cards in the centre.

Each turn, they can trade a harvest card with another country. Or they can bring a coin to you and buy a harvest card of their choice. If they are out of coins they can sell you a card for a coin.

Each round, you toss a coin. Those who called it right have to pick a ‘weather card’. (I drew mine (inexpertly) on the back of old cut up photos.) Some examples were:

  • Rainstorm and floods destroys the seeds at planting time. Lose two wheat.
  • Light rainfall and sun gives good growing conditions to feed the sheep. Take an extra sheep.
  • Wildfires (affecting more than just the team that picked it) destroys sheep, wheat and trees. Lose one of each.
  • Trees planted by your father start to produce more fruit. Take two trees.
  • Rising temperatures mean that bugs that carry disease are increasing. Lose all your sheep.
  • Drought prevents crops growing. Lose two wheat.

When you judge it is right, you declare it is HARVEST and the ‘countries’ see if they are able to feed all their households. If it has worked, some will have too much: Others not enough. You can then have a discussion about how those with excess should respond, drawing out the point that as well as sharing what they have, our global neighbour needs our action to manage and reduce worsening weather.

My five year old was the one whose country fared worse. After managing her disappointment at losing, she really got it, commenting mournfully over the next few days “I didn’t have enough to feed my family”. It’s probably better for older kids, but with adult helpers, (and some distractions on hand like duplo to build ‘houses’) I think it’s probaby feasible in most groups.

If you try it – let me know how it goes.

(First published on the Grain of Sand blog)

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