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Why do smallholder farmers dis‐adopt conservation agriculture? Insights from Malawi

Chinseu, Edna, Dougill, Andrew, Stringer, Lindsay
Land degradation & development 2019 v.30 no.5 pp. 533-543
agricultural conservation practice, agricultural development, agricultural productivity, climate, climate change, development projects, farmers, farmers' attitudes, financial economics, focus groups, markets, ownership, questionnaires, surveys, Malawi
International donors and advisory bodies, governments, and nongovernmental organisations are actively promoting conservation agriculture (CA) to improve agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change impacts. However, many smallholder farmers continue to dis‐adopt (abandon) the technology. Reasons for dis‐adoption are not well known. This article examines farmers' lived experiences and perceptions of CA to understand why smallholder farmers dis‐adopt CA in Malawi. Improving understanding of dis‐adoption of this seemingly appropriate intervention is important to achieve sustained adoption and for ensuring long‐lasting impacts of agricultural development project interventions. A mixed methods approach was used, involving household questionnaire survey and focus group discussions with smallholder farmers. Findings reveal that although drivers of dis‐adoption are multidimensional and multilayered, they are rooted in shortfalls of CA promoters' implementation arrangements. Although CA proponents market CA as a time‐saving, labour‐saving, and yield‐improving technology, respondents report contrary experiences. Our findings show that farmers lack sufficient technical support and encounter technological, social, institutional, and economic challenges. These, coupled with unfulfilled expectations, undermine ownership of CA projects and lead to dis‐adoption. This highlights a need to (a) collaboratively design projects to better suit local needs and context with inclusive implementation arrangements; (b) emphasise climate resilience benefits of CA rather than economic benefits to manage farmers' expectations; (c) intensify multidisciplinary research that incorporates farmers' knowledge and experiences to develop suitable, flexible, and low‐input CA packages; and (d) provide regular hands‐on technical extension support to farmers.