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Awareness and adoption of conservation agriculture in Malawi: what difference can farmer-to-farmer extension make?

Fisher, Monica, Holden, Stein T., Thierfelder, Christian, Katengeza, Samson P.
International journal of agricultural sustainability 2018 v.16 no.3 pp. 310-325
agricultural conservation practice, agricultural education, crop residues, crop yield, disturbed soils, energy conservation, erosion control, extension education, farmers, farmers' attitudes, issues and policy, models, soil erosion, water use efficiency, Malawi
Despite the potential of conservation agriculture (CA) for increased crop yields, energy savings, soil erosion control, and water-use efficiency, smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have been slow to adopt. Farmer-to-farmer extension (F2FE) may have a role to play in overcoming the information access problems and lack of knowledge that may preclude widespread adoption. This study uses data for 180 lead farmers linked to their 455 followers to investigate how F2FE influences awareness and adoption of CA technologies in Malawi. Results from a bivariate probit model for follower farmer awareness and adoption of the three CA principles (minimum soil disturbance, crop residue retention, and crop diversification) reveal four main findings: First, lead farmer motivation increases their effectiveness at diffusing CA practices to their followers. Second, lead farmer familiarity with and adoption of CA both matter to the spread of CA practices, but familiarity appears more important. Third, lead farmers play a more critical role in increasing awareness than adoption of the CA practices. Finally, F2FE is a complement rather than a substitute for other sources of agricultural extension in Malawi's pluralistic extension system and should support but not replace current systems. Research and policy implications are discussed.