The Sustainable Development Goals aim at ending food insecurity by 2030. Therefore, civil society needs to understand the inherent complexities of both socio-economic and ecological dynamics and their interdependencies. In particular, the behavioural dynamics that underpin human agents are crucial in driving the final outcomes in terms of community food security and require further attention. Using household behaviour within a rural village of Southern Malawi as an example, we describe a game theory model representing cropping strategies: (1) cooperation, as driven by other-regarding preferences, and (2) conformation, the tendency to converge to similar crop planting choices as opposed to differentiation (and thus crop diversity). We find that the latter plays a crucial role in driving the system towards successful strategies: how individuals relate to social norms has greater effect. Cooperation is only necessary for community success when the community converges on crop planting choices. On the contrary, differentiation, the affirmation of the individual unique identity, can succeed with or without cooperation. We further elaborate on the idea that community level sustainability can be reached through different pathways, which might require food exchange mechanisms within and beyond the system boundaries.
human behaviour; game theory; social networks; diversity; social-ecological systems; food security