Explaining farmers’ reluctance to adopt recommendations for sustainable ecosystem management
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Bezaiet Dessalegn, Ludmilla Kiktenko, Balzhan Zhumagazina, Saltanat Zhakenova, Vinay Nangia. (11/6/2018). Explaining farmers’ reluctance to adopt recommendations for sustainable ecosystem management. Ecological Processes, 7: 24.
Introduction: The lower Syr Darya River Basin is an integral part of the Aral Sea Basin that is shared by four riparian countries. In Kazakhstan, the water is mainly used for agricultural purposes. However, the poor quality and insufficient quantity of water and the overall degradation of natural resources due to unsustainable management practices threaten the profitability of the sector. The situation is even worse for downstream users. Three alternative scenarios for sustainable water and land management were developed using the RIOS and SWAT models as decision support tools. The scenario that offered the highest water and land productivity was presented to farmers to assess their willingness to forgo their current practices and adopt proposed management practices. We introduce willingness to forego (WTF)—a qualitative approach and a variant of the concept of opportunity costs to look beyond hypothetical markets to trading current benefits for future returns. We also tap into literature on agricultural risk management to provide additional insight into farmers’ rationale behind their choices. Result: Generally, despite their stated preference to conserve ecosystem services, farmers’ actions were found to be inconsistent with the proposed sustainable management. WTF analysis revealed that farmers’ desire to maximize current benefits and more importantly to minimize future risks override all sustainability considerations. Their WTF current benefits mainly depended on their location along the canal and hence their access to water and land, overall cost of production, market conditions that informed their crop choices, and the cost of adopting recommended packages. While the results remain specific to this case, they are consistent with the literature that links farmers’ behaviors to ecological performances. Conclusions: The study highlights the limitations of decision support tools and other valuation approaches including willingness to pay (WTP) and willingness to accept (payment) (WTA), to capture the delicate trade-offs that need to be considered to ensure household food and income security and encourage adoption of sustainable ecosystem management practices. Adequate information on potential effects of proposed conservation measures on yield, markets and hence farm profits, and availability of other alternatives are critical in shaping farmers’ decisions.