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Farmer-centered ecological intensification: using innovation characteristics to identify barriers and opportunities for a transition of agroecosystems towards sustainability


Kernecker, Maria; Seufert, Verena; Chapman, Mollie (2021). Farmer-centered ecological intensification: using innovation characteristics to identify barriers and opportunities for a transition of agroecosystems towards sustainability. Agricultural Systems, 191:103142.

Abstract

CONTEXT
Ecological intensification (EI) describes farming practices that aim to use ecological processes for producing agricultural yields. While evidence for the ecological benefits of EI is plentiful, the question of how it can be more widely adopted by farmers, and why it has not been so far, remains pertinent, since only approximately 9% of the globally farmed land is currently managed with EI practices. We suggest that considering farmers as central while attending to farm and system level factors can help to identify barriers and facilitators to EI adoption. To do this, we look to diverse, overlapping bodies of literature encompassing EI practice details, systems thinking, and farmer adoption. Innovation characteristics is one framework that has been used to study farmer adoption of new farm management tools and practices.

OBJECTIVE
Our objective is to use innovation characteristics for identifying farmer, farm, and system level barriers and potential solutions to EI adoption. We then aim to synthesize broader lessons for a sustainability transition in agriculture.

METHODS
We treat EI as a suite of innovations, including practices, technologies, and knowledge. We explore how the innovation characteristics of EI - i.e. their relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability and observability – manifest at each of three levels: farmer, farm, and system. We apply our approach to three case studies of EI adoption from different world regions: 1) managing landscape complexity in Germany, 2) installation of riparian buffers in the USA and 3) organic farming in India.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS
An analysis of our case studies using innovation characteristics helped identify barriers to EI adoption and at what level these barriers should be addressed. Barriers included: uncoupled financial and farm-level ecological relative advantages of EI (system level), framing that is not in line with farm values and needs (farmer level), insufficient training for managing complex systems (farmer level), and time constraints for experimentation with and observation of EI effects (farm level). System level solutions could support training and experimentation with EI, empowering farmers by providing them with autonomy to adapt and apply EI as they see fitting.

SIGNIFICANCE
Using innovation characteristics and diverse bodies of knowledge allowed us to identify barriers, but also opportunities at farmer, farm, and system level. Abundant work focuses on convincing farmers of what science says is right, so showing farmers that barriers are not explicit to them is a helpful step forward in the transition towards sustainability.

Abstract

CONTEXT
Ecological intensification (EI) describes farming practices that aim to use ecological processes for producing agricultural yields. While evidence for the ecological benefits of EI is plentiful, the question of how it can be more widely adopted by farmers, and why it has not been so far, remains pertinent, since only approximately 9% of the globally farmed land is currently managed with EI practices. We suggest that considering farmers as central while attending to farm and system level factors can help to identify barriers and facilitators to EI adoption. To do this, we look to diverse, overlapping bodies of literature encompassing EI practice details, systems thinking, and farmer adoption. Innovation characteristics is one framework that has been used to study farmer adoption of new farm management tools and practices.

OBJECTIVE
Our objective is to use innovation characteristics for identifying farmer, farm, and system level barriers and potential solutions to EI adoption. We then aim to synthesize broader lessons for a sustainability transition in agriculture.

METHODS
We treat EI as a suite of innovations, including practices, technologies, and knowledge. We explore how the innovation characteristics of EI - i.e. their relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability and observability – manifest at each of three levels: farmer, farm, and system. We apply our approach to three case studies of EI adoption from different world regions: 1) managing landscape complexity in Germany, 2) installation of riparian buffers in the USA and 3) organic farming in India.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS
An analysis of our case studies using innovation characteristics helped identify barriers to EI adoption and at what level these barriers should be addressed. Barriers included: uncoupled financial and farm-level ecological relative advantages of EI (system level), framing that is not in line with farm values and needs (farmer level), insufficient training for managing complex systems (farmer level), and time constraints for experimentation with and observation of EI effects (farm level). System level solutions could support training and experimentation with EI, empowering farmers by providing them with autonomy to adapt and apply EI as they see fitting.

SIGNIFICANCE
Using innovation characteristics and diverse bodies of knowledge allowed us to identify barriers, but also opportunities at farmer, farm, and system level. Abundant work focuses on convincing farmers of what science says is right, so showing farmers that barriers are not explicit to them is a helpful step forward in the transition towards sustainability.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > Animal Science and Zoology
Life Sciences > Agronomy and Crop Science
Uncontrolled Keywords:Agronomy and Crop Science, Animal Science and Zoology
Language:English
Date:1 June 2021
Deposited On:22 Apr 2021 15:14
Last Modified:23 Apr 2021 20:00
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0308-521X
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2021.103142

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