On-Farm Conservation: Get Farmers on Side First

Article excerpt

Policy makers, extension officers and researchers may have more success in getting farmers to adopt conservation practices by identifying the factors that motivate farmers first, before formulating policy or design extension programs.

Professor David Pannell of the University of Western Australia, one of the authors of a recent review paper on the subject, says conservation practices such as lime application to treat acid soils are more readily adopted by farmers because they provide tangible and measurable benefits. By contrast, some measures to counter dryland salinity can be difficult to trial and less attractive than current practices.

'For policy people, we encourage a reality check,' Pannell told Ecos. 'We're saying to them it's not just a matter of telling landholders what you think they ought to be doing, it's almost the other way around. It's recognising that farmers will do what they think will meet their goals ... and we need to account for that when we develop our policies.'

'Profit or economics is an important motivation or driver for commercial farmers, but it's not the be all and end all,' said Pannell. 'Cultural or social issues and personality traits of farmers are also relevant.'

The paper advises that if authorities wish to increase on-farm adoption, they should avoid putting all their efforts into communication, education and persuasion--the usual strategy--because unless the innovations being promoted are at least as attractive as the practices they are supposed to replace, such extension programs are destined to fail. …