Adoption of Sustainable Agricultural Practices

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While many more farmers now seem to have a better awareness of the negative environmental and social consequences of conventional and social consequences on conventional agricultural systems, this has not translated into a major shift toward the adoption of sustainable practices (Alonge and Martine 1995).

As farmers increasingly confront declining per capita return arisen from miniaturizing land holdings caused by steadily growing population, they are required to make additional efforts to increase agricultural production. They will thus adopt an agricultural system only when it is both economically and environmentally suitable (Rasul and Thapa 2003).

The adoption of sustainable agriculture strategies/technologies has received frequent attention in recent years, both by producers and consumers. Despite economic and noneconomic disadvantages of conventional agriculture, farmers have been slow to adopt these practices, and adoption appears to vary widely by region and crops (Musser et al. 1986).

Attempts to explain the low adoption rate have been many and varied (Alonge and Martine 1995). Lovejoy and Napier (1986), for instance, blamed the little success achieved by past efforts to encourage farmers' adoption of sustainable agricultural innovations on what they termed the American penchant for attempting a technological fix for every problem. They contended that past efforts have concentrated on telling farmers of the negative environmental impact of their production systems in the hope of engendering attitudinal change and as a consequence the adoption of Best Management Practices. They pointed to the futility of such an approach, observing that findings of past research showed that farmers continued to use practices that degraded the environment even when they: (1) were aware of the negative environmental impact of their agricultural practices; (2) believed they had a social responsibility to protect the environment; and (3) had favorable attitudes toward soil and water conservation (Alonge and Martine 1995).

Much of the research effort in adoption of sustainable agriculture has been fragmented, with little coordination and integration. Several issues have not been adequately treated in previous studies. While research on sustainable agriculture systems has produced information on several alternative practices, little substantive research has investigated the structure of belief and motivation that drive farmers' decisions about sustainable agriculture systems adoption (Comer et al. 1999).

Such findings have raised questions about the relevance of the traditional diffusing model for explaining the adoption of conservation technologies. Critics argued that while the study of the adoption and diffusion of technologies under the rubric of the classical adoption-diffusion model have contributed immensely to the understanding of the adoption process as they relate to commercial farm technologies and practices, the model may not provide full explanation of the adoption process when applied to sustainable agricultural practices (Alonge and Martine 1995).

Hence, the need for new perspectives has been called for in the study of the adoption and diffusion of sustainable agriculture, with focus on access to, and quality of information (Lovejoy and Napier 1986), the perception of innovations, and the institutional and economic factors related to adoption (Alonge and Martine 1995). Some studies have concluded that it is likely that the successful adoption of conservation practices would be influenced more by a farmers' attitude and perception, than any other factor (Alonge and Martine 1995).

According to classical technology adoption theory, technology adoption in agriculture is related to demographic characteristics of farmers, and occurs initially among young, well-educated farmers who operate relatively large farms, and own rather than rent land. However, innovations that are primarily focused on environmental benefits ("environmental innovations," e.g., integrated pest management) are fundamentally different from traditional technologies, in that they may be complex groupings of practices, which are not necessarily applicable to all farms, and they may offer more benefit to society as a whole than they do to adopters. The demographic and attitudinal characteristics important in the adoption of environmental innovations may be different than those for traditional technologies. Some studies have found demographic and attitudinal differences between farmers practicing conventional versus reduced-input agriculture. Others have found that farmers interested in reducing pesticide use are demographically and attitudinally similar to mainstream farmers. Farmer support for reduced-input practices has also been reported to be related more to attitudinal than demographic factors. The potential impact of a given pesticide use reduction strategy will be greater if the strategy appeals to farmers with average or typical demographics and attitudes. The adoption of pesticide use reduction strategies can be facilitated through targeted extension if the target group of farmers and farms can be characterized (Nazarko et al. 2003).

A basic assumption of farming systems research is that farmers are intentionally rational in the way they manage their farming operations, including their choice of technology. That is, they choose farming technologies in order to further their goals, subjected to the constraints imposed by resource availability (land, labor, and capital) and environmental conditions (biophysical and socioeconomic) (Cramb 2005). For small farmers who are struggling for food security, current needs are more important than future needs. Even profit-seeking large farmers will not venture into ecological agriculture unless it provides sufficient income (Rasul and Thapa 2003).

Economic considerations are often very important in the adoption of conservation or reduced-input practices. Noneconomic factors can also be important in farmers' decisions to reduce agrichemical use. Also, concern about environmental pollution is consistently positively correlated with farmer's willingness to adopt pesticide use reduction practices; however, economic factors often take precedence over such concerns. Farmers' perceptions of the economic outcome of reduced pesticide use are critical to its adoption (Nazarko et al. 2003).

Kinnucan et al. (1990) observed that there is a relationship between age and farmers' adoption behavior. While younger, less experienced farmers are expected to be more environmentally aware and more likely to adopt sustainable practices, there is no consensus regarding the relationship between farmers' age and environmental concern.

It would therefore be expected that farmers with higher levels of education would be more likely to implement pesticide use reduction. Despite, most comparisons between conventional and organic farmers do not show significant differences in level of formal education (Nazarko et al. 2003). There is conflicting evidence over the role of land ownership in the adoption of sustainable farming practices.

Tenancy (rather than ownership) has been found to be negatively related to the adoption of sustainable practices. However, economic pressures may override incentives for conservation associated with land ownership. Membership in different types of farm organizations may be representative of, or may influence, farmers' perceptions of acceptable farming practices and knowledge of sustainable practices (Nazarko et al. 2003)

The sustainability debate has taught that economic, social, and environmental problems and, more importantly, their solutions are as much cultural as technological and institutional. Cultural diversity, therefore, offers humanity a variety of ways of developmental interaction and avoids the difficulties associated with any monoculture, namely, loss of material for new paths of economic, social, and environmental evolution, and a danger that resistance to unforeseen problems is lowered (Jenkins 2000). In addition to culture, study of the linkage between environment poverty and sustainable agriculture to provide a more realistic picture of the situation has been of great interest to researchers (Karami and Rezaei-Moghaddam 1998; Karami 2001; Karami and Hayati 2005; Rezaei-Moghaddam and Karami 2006).

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