Extreme Third World Farmer Development Economist Challenge

As academics, aid workers, bloggers and concerned citizens, we all care about the plight of the poor rural farmer. From those who want to douse her with fertilizer to those who’d like to just get her a job at McDonald’s, we also all seem to know what is best way forward.

It’s time to put that knowledge to test. I propose a contest where you step into the shoes of the rural farmer and see how well your assumptions play out against a backdrop of immense scarcity and uncertainty. No, this isn’t some kind of poverty immersion exercise – that would be far too easy. This is simulation.

Unfortunately the Aid Thoughts virtual reality room is currently out of order, so in lieu of something remotely realistic we must turn to our second best option: Third World Farmer.

The unfortunately-titled TWF is an “African farmer simulator” designed to teach people about the difficulties of rural life in developing countries. You are tasked with growing crops, earning money, dealing with the myriad of shocks that come your way, and slowly building up your family’s health and human capital, as well as breaking out of poverty.

TWF isn’t a perfect game (see my original review here) – it is rife with African stereotypes (of the four horsemen variety) and I have a feeling that it hits you over the head a little too often with negative shocks to get its point across, rather than reflect reality. You might find some of the options the game considers a failure to be anything but, such as the option to move to the city for a much higher income.

Despite this – it’s the best we have, and I can think of no better chance, short of an actual cage match, for the experts of the world, bloggers, and development-savvy folk everywhere to go head-to-head.


  1. Go to the Third World Farmer website here.
  2. If you haven’t played it before, give the game a try. You get one play through to get a feel for it, no more.
  3. When you’re ready, begin your game. Once you’ve started, there’s no turning back.
  4. Your game is over when either your farm ceases to exist (usually for negative reasons) or you win the game by buying every available item for purchase (these things range from poultry to crop insurance).
  5. Once the game is over, record your score (take a screenshot using your printscreen key) and your total number of turns and send it to me at matt@aidthoughts.org.
  6. On top of the score, I will be recording results for your own personal human development index result, so I will also be needing:
    1. The average educational attainment of the people living on your farm (education)
    2. The number of living household members, including the age-at-death of any who passed away (life expectancy)
    3. The per capita income of the household in the final turn (income)
  7. As I get your scores, I will create a scoreboard on this website with a ranking, both for high scores and for HDI results.
  8. A month from now, on May 11th, I will close the competition. The winner with the highest score will receive a special Aid Thoughts edition of Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid, scrawled with critical notes and expletives by Ranil and myself. Now you too can experience the same mind-numbing frustration we felt upon reading it.
  9. The winner with the highest human development index will receive  one full month free of snark or sarcastic criticism from Aid Thoughts.

The prize: Dead Aid, Aid Thoughts annotated edition

Is this contest tasteless, patronizing and a little demeaning? Probably – but here at Aid Thoughts we deal with all all three. So, boot up you laptops, load up Toto’s ‘Africa‘ on iTunes, and start planting those crops.

12 thoughts on “Extreme Third World Farmer Development Economist Challenge

  1. Ranil Dissanayake

    April 11, 2011 at 12:00pm

    Just did my practice round. Holy crap, I’m a murderer. I expelled my kids from the farm after my wheat crop failed and my chickens died, but then I had nothing left to eat. I wound up making nyama choma out of my wife. Hopefully next time I’ll have more success.

  2. Mike McKay

    April 11, 2011 at 2:40pm

    I educated my kids in the paramilitary camp that I setup on my farm. At least they know how to clean an AK-47. Score: 90.

  3. bsanchez

    April 11, 2011 at 8:18pm

    Where’s the fertiliser? Does the game assume that Jeffrey has provided it for free already?

    My Shire Valley strategy of cotton and chimanga was working until guerrilla soldiers raided the chickens I had managed to buy with my surplus.

    That wouldn’t happen in Malawi.

  4. Matt

    April 11, 2011 at 8:31pm


    I’ll take that as a “I’ll send my results to you soon” 🙂


  5. c-sez

    April 11, 2011 at 9:12pm

    Hold down ctrl+shift and press A, F, G, N and you can unlock the poppy crop. I’m on year 7, have net worth $178,000,243, and my three surviving sons are all being educated at MIT. Only thing is I can’t work out how to stop the US drone strikes, they’re destroying my barns and making a godawful mess of the elephants.

  6. Tom Murphny

    April 11, 2011 at 9:54pm

    Victory! In only 15 turns. I assume that this now means that I am qualified to present a 15 year plan to eradicate poverty through sparse schooling, diversified crops, public works and child labor.

    Mr. Sachs, I await your call.

  7. joel

    April 12, 2011 at 3:02pm

    There should be an options for beer or some kind o’ local brew – would dull the pain at least…

  8. Jonathan

    May 18, 2011 at 1:46pm

    After several tries, including one that lasted for 26 turns, I ended with victory on 19 turns, 8 household members and $5990.

  9. Jonathan

    May 18, 2011 at 1:47pm

    After several tries, including one that lasted for 26 turns, when I found out that you could mend the health of your family I ended with victory on 19 turns, 8 household members and $5990.

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