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Socio-economic factors influencing farmers' adoption of soil conservation practices in Europe

Socio-economic factors influencing farmers' adoption of soil conservation practices in Europe

Prager, Katrin and Posthumus, Helena (2010) Socio-economic factors influencing farmers' adoption of soil conservation practices in Europe. In: Napier, Ted L., (ed.) Human Dimensions of Soil and Water Conservation: A Global Perspective. Agriculture Issues and Policies . Nova Science Publishers, Inc., Hauppauge, NY, USA, pp. 203-223. ISBN 978-7-61728-957-6

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This chapter aimed to review and summarize findings of existing studies on the role of socio-economic factors that influence farmer participation in soil conservation efforts, i.e. their adoption of conservation practices, with a particular focus on the European situation. In order to provide a structured overview we combined four groups of factors derived from previous concepts (Ervin and Ervin, 1982; Stonehouse, 1997) with the factors that influence the process of adoption (see model of acceptance in Figure 1). There is no evidence in the studies that either economic factors or social factors are superior in explaining adoption decisions. Rather, it is always a mix of personal, socio-cultural, economic, institutional and even environmental variables that explain behavior.
Across the studies reviewed for the European context, we noted that there are several ways in which farmers or other land managers can participate in conservation efforts. We found three distinct pathways for the adoption of soil conservation practices:

1) an individual adopts a practice on their own initiative
2) an individual enrolls in an agri-environment scheme or soil conservation program and receives compensation (incentive payments)
3) an individual complies with legislation and conservation requirements.

In a particular case a mixture of these may apply but there are distinct differences how these pathways determine the set of socio-economic factors that play a role in the adoption decision. A farmer may not consciously make the choice to take a certain pathway – in case of the third pathway, the choice is made externally. These pathways will also decide whether an investigation of adoption factors will focus on personal motivation, learning and experiences, on scheme characteristics that facilitate participation, or on compliance and enforcement of legislation.
We infer that each pathway has a main driver. In the first case, the main driver is the personal motivation based on problem perception or intrinsic motifs and, if in a group, peer pressure. In the second case, the main driver is the incentive payment which must outweigh all other costs associated with program uptake and implementation of the measures in order for it to become effective. In the third case, the main driver is the threat of possible consequences of non-compliance such as a fine, loss of payments or reputation. For each pathway, a farmer considers the costs and benefits of soil conservation when deciding whether to adopt soil conservation practices or not. However, these costs and benefits go beyond direct costs and benefits associated with the practices and for some it may be difficult to quantify them (e.g. reputation, satisfaction, learning costs, costs associated with uncertainty on impact). Furthermore, the costs and benefits are determined by the environmental and economic context, institutional structures, and personal characteristics and they will thus differ between farmers and farms. Although based on a different sample (statistical analyses from regions in Africa and North and South America for conservation agriculture) we strongly support Bradshaw and Knowler’s (2007, 25) claim that there are few if any universal variables that regularly explain the adoption of soil practices and their conclusion that efforts to promote soil conservation in agriculture “will have to be tailored to reflect the particular conditions of individual locales.”

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: [1] Chapter 12.
Uncontrolled Keywords: soil conservation, agriculture, policy, technology adoption
Subjects: S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Livelihoods & Institutions Department
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Last Modified: 07 Jan 2013 13:02

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