Yearly Archives: 2006

89 – Farmers as “consumers” of nature conservation

Many farmers put a high value on improving environmental conditions on their farm. In other words, government programs for land and water conservation in rural areas generate private, as well as public, benefits.

When I started work for the Department of Agriculture in Western Australia in 1983, the link between farm management and nature conservation was not a prominent policy concern. I don’t recall it being mentioned once during my four-year degree in Agricultural Science.

Things have changed. Twenty five years ago, the main aim of agricultural policy was, in various ways, to improve the economic performance of farms. These days, a big chunk of agricultural policy is concerned with “sustainable” management of resources.

To a significant extent, the aim now is to protect or generate public benefits, as opposed to the former focus on private economic benefits. For example, the Natural Heritage Trust provides funds to encourage farmers to do things that enhance nature conservation, and generate public benefits.

However, it is important to recognise that a farmer’s actions to enhance nature conservation may also provide benefits for that farmer, in the form of personal satisfaction or as benefits to agricultural production. These are, in a sense, private “consumption” benefits. Michael (2003) proposes that “the literature usually overestimates the opportunity costs of preservation” (p. 243) because it fails to take account of the willingness of farmers to bear some of the costs, reflecting the personal satisfaction that they gain by contributing to conservation, or perhaps gains in productivity on their land. This suggestion is supported by empirical evidence from the BushTender trial in Victoria, where landholders submitted bids in an auction, specifying the level of financial support they would require in order to undertake specified works to protect remnant vegetation.

“The diversity of bids, particularly the fact that some landholders offered low bids per hectare, implies that some landholders were probably prepared to share costs with the government to conserve biodiversity. Other landholders, it seems, charged NRE [the Department of Natural Resources and Environment] the full opportunity cost of land-based activities.” (Stoneham et al. 2003).

In the Landcare and Natural Heritage Trust programs, we have observed farmers contributing considerable time and resources to on-ground works intended to promote nature conservation (e.g., Doley 2003; English 2003; Lloyd and Butterworth 2003; McFarlane and McFarlane 2003). Under an economic interpretation, one of the objectives of Landcare could be expressed as increasing the farmers demand for (i.e., willingness to pay for) environmental improvements. These programs succeeded to some extent. I would hazard a guess that farmers now spend more per head on nature conservation than any other group in society.

On the other hand, at least some farmers object in principle to proposals to reduce clearing, even if compensation is offered, and especially if the proposal involves compulsion. The “willingness to pay” for nature conservation by some farmers seems to fall to zero when they are forced.

Even when there is no compulsion, we need to have realistic expectations about the extent of farmers’ willingness to pay. To a greater or lesser extent, almost all farmers are willing to make financial sacrifices for the good of their land or the environment, but they also must give priority to remaining in business and meeting other family and social objectives. The point is that the community can benefit from the generosity and environmental concerns of farmers, but that there are limits to what can realistically (or reasonably) be expected.

A common finding in economics is that most consumers of most goods experience “diminishing marginal utility” as their level of consumption increases. This means that the level of satisfaction for each additional unit of consumption falls as consumption reaches higher and higher levels. This is reflected, for example, in the fact that as the price of a good rises, consumers tend to choose to purchase less of the good (demand curves slope downwards). Turning that observation around, to encourage consumers to purchase more of a good (assuming tastes and preferences are fixed) one must reduce the price of the good.

It seems to me that the extent to which farmers have given of their time and money for environmental works in the recent past is a good indication of their personal benefits as consumers of environmental benefits. Attempts to encourage farmers to expand their contributions will come up against the influence of diminishing marginal utility. Substantial increases in the demand for nature conservation by farmers on their land may require substantial falls in the “price” to them. Two possibilities for achieving this are: provision of more substantial subsidies by the public, and development of less costly technologies that aid conservation (e.g., woody perennials that are more commercially attractive and so have lower opportunity costs). This is not to deny that there is scope for increased voluntary contributions from some farmers. Deeper knowledge of environmental issues from participation in government programs can be a strong motivating force for some farmers. In economic terms, this is an increase in demand, rather than a decrease in cost of supply.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Further Reading

Doley, A., 2003. “Koobabbie”: ecological and economic sustainability. Pacific Conservation Biology 9: 42-48.

English, G., 2003. “Jangarri”: economics, environment, society. Pacific Conservation Biology 9: 36-38.

Lloyd, T. and Butterworth, J., 2003. Eden Valley Farm: an integrated approach to a sustainable future. Pacific Conservation Biology 9: 32-35.

McFarlane, M.R., and McFarlane, S.M., 2003. Dangemanning Farm: a holistic development. Pacific Conservation Biology 9: 39-41.

Michael, J.A., 2003. Efficient habitat protection with diverse landowners and fragmented landscapes. Environmental Science and Policy 6: 243–251.

Pannell, D.J. (2004). Heathens in the chapel? Application of economics to biodiversity, Pacific Conservation Biology 10(2/3): 88-105. Full paper (109K)

Stoneham, G., Chaudhri, V., Ha, A. and Strappazzon, L., 2003. Auctions for conservation contracts: an empirical examination of Victoria’s BushTender trial. Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 47: 477-500.

88 – Thinking like an economist 24: Flat-earth economics

Economists are often interested in finding the optimal solution to economic problems, meaning the strategy or decision that gives the highest possible payoff. In reality, in many cases, the best possible economic decision is barely any better than a large number of alternative decisions. This has big implications that economists should highlight, but which they mostly ignore.

When I was doing my degree in agricultural science in the early 1980s, while looking through the Journal of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science for an article I needed to complete an assignment, I chanced across “One More or Less Cheer for Optimality” by Jock Anderson (1975). Intriguing title, so I read it. It was the first piece by Jock that I had read, and it was terrific. For one thing, I was very impressed that Jock could write in an entertaining and readable way in a research journal.

More importantly, I was impressed by the content, which was about the way that economic payoffs can often be quite insensitive to changes in management. For example, if you vary the rate of nitrogen fertilizer applied to a wheat crop, field measurements and some simple economic calculations show that there is usually quite a wide range of nitrogen rates that result in almost as much profit as the profit-maximising nitrogen rate. In other words, the payoff function is flat near the optimum, often over quite a wide range. In response to someone who had pointed this out in an earlier article, Jock was more-or-less saying, yes, so what?, agricultural economists have always known that. He pointed out that it is a really common phenomenon in economic models generally.

Now, I was in my honours year studying agricultural economics at the time, and I’d also done a number of units in the Economics Faculty, but nobody had ever pointed this out to me. It struck me as a hugely important observation, and a remarkable omission from my economics education.

It turned out that Jock’s paper was part of a series of comments and replies about flat payoff functions, involving a number of authors. It had been, briefly, a hot issue.

The remarkable thing – actually the astounding thing – is that, as far as I can tell, that debate in 1975 was the last time the issue of flat payoff functions was discussed in any detail in a journal. I’ve spent a long time searching, and all I’ve been able to find in the past 30 years of journal articles in economics or agricultural economics is a few brief mentions of the issue. Mostly it is completely ignored, even though it is present in most optimising economic models that are published. I’ve not seen it mentioned in any economics text book apart from a couple of specialised ones on response functions by Jock and his colleagues.

I say this is astounding because flat payoff functions are so very common, and they have such huge implications. In fact I reckon you could make a good case that the common existence of flat payoff functions is one of the most important empirical results in all of economics. And yet, all over the world, students of economics are graduating without it being highlighted, or even mentioned, to them.

How flat is flat? Figure 1 shows one example that is not at all unusual. This is a graph of gross margin (a measure of economic payoff) as a function of lime application to crops on acidic soils in one particular situation in Western Australia (taken from O’Connell et al., 1999). The profit-maximising rate of lime in this example is 2.7 tonnes per ha, but for any rate between 1.8 and 4.3 tonnes per ha, the payoff is within 5% of the maximum!

flat

Figure 1. Gross margin (~profit) as a function of lime rate in the Western Australian wheatbelt.

It really doesn’t matter a hoot that the optimal rate is 2.7 tonnes per ha. (It probably isn’t really, given the inevitable measurement errors, sampling errors and sheer guesswork that go into creating a graph like this.) What matters is that if you apply anything between about 2 and 4 tonnes, you’ll make about as much money as it’s possible to make from lime application. Applying 2 to 4 tonnes is vastly better than none at all, but the choice between 2, or 4, or 3.3 or 2.7 matters not one jot.

If I was applying lime, I’d want to know this. It would mean that I could consider other issues, like say risk, or liquidity, when choosing my rate. It also means that as a manager I have a margin for error, which is worth knowing since it may cost more to be precise. If I was an economist analysing this issue, I would focus on where the flat section of the curve is, and how wide it is.

By contrast, economists are commonly obsessed with finding optimal solutions. Economics journals are chock full of studies where either calculus or numerical methods have been used to find optimal solutions to economic problems. This obsession with optimisation seems to have created a huge blind spot. In 1975, Jardine noted that on presenting information to agronomists about flat profit curves for fertilizers, he “observed such reactions as complete disbelief, blank incomprehension, incipient terror, and others less readily categorized”. It would be very interesting to see how many economists today would react similarly. I’m not saying that optimisation methods should not be used, but there are implications for how they should be used.

Flat payoff functions are not important solely because of the “margin for error” issue. They also have big implications for issues as diverse as risk management, precision farming, and the value of research. I’ve written about those issues in Pannell (2006), just out in the Review of Agricultural Economics.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Further Reading

Anderson, J.R. “One More or Less Cheer for Optimality.” J. Aust. Institute Agr. Sci. 41(September 1975): 195-197.

O’Connell, M., A.D. Bathgate, and N.A. Glenn. (1999). “The value of information from research to enhance testing or monitoring of soil acidity in Western Australia.” SEA Working Paper 99/06, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Western Australia.

Pannell, D.J. (2006). Flat-earth economics: The far-reaching consequences of flat payoff functions in economic decision making, Review of Agricultural Economics 28(4), 553-566. Prepublication version here (44K).

87 – Economics and the future

One of the most difficult issues in economics is how to deal with time, especially for issues that extend over the very long term. Steve Schilizzi and I have just published an edited book on this subject, with contributions by some outstanding economists. Here is a snippet from the introduction, and a list of the chapters.

The basic question addressed in this book is, how should we assign a present value to benefits and costs that occur in the future? In other words, how, and to what extent, should future benefits and costs be discounted in the present? The question is multifaceted, complex, and not solely economic. For example, the answer may depend to some extent on elements of religion, biology and social and political context.

Religion

A number of religions have had strictures on charging interest on loans, which has implications for the rate at which private investors would discount future benefits and costs to the present. The Bible tells us: Love your enemies, do good and lend, hoping for nothing therefrom (Luke 6:35). Related to this Christian tradition, Britain, up until 1832, had usury laws prohibiting interest rates above 5 per cent. Similarly, in the pure Islamic tradition, even today interest on any lending is strictly forbidden. On the other hand, the undesirability of imposing a strict anti-usury position was long recognized, including, for example, by the tolerance of Jewish money lenders in Christian and Muslim communities. Imola (d.1387) observed that, he who practices usury goes to hell; he who does not, to poverty.

Biology

The logic of trading off present and future benefits and costs can be detected in biology. For example, evolutionary biologist Steven Pinker (1997, p. 394) has observed that, ‘The struggle to reproduce is a kind of economy, and all organisms must “decide” whether to use resources now or save them. Some of these decisions are made by the genes. We grow frail with age because our genes discount the future and build strong young bodies at the expense of old ones.’

Social and Political Context

Individuals are likely to treat the trade-off between present and future in different ways depending, to some extent, on their personal circumstances and the social context within which they find themselves. For example, after cyclone Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, thousands of people were sheltered in a large sports stadium, the ‘Superdome’. The Superdome became notorious for the lawlessness that ensued among a section of its temporary inhabitants prior to the complete evacuation of the city. After the evacuation, a tourist interviewed on radio observed that the perpetrators of the appalling crimes he had witnessed appeared to be behaving ‘as if they had no tomorrow’. For them, there appeared to be no trade-off between present benefits and future costs (and in the circumstance, perhaps they were right). Similar observations were made during the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century bc, when Athenians trapped behind the protective walls linking Athens to Piraeus fell victim to hunger, squalor and ultimately to the bubonic plague; thousands died. The historian Thucydides painted a horrific picture describing how hopelessness about the future took hold of the Athenians and how theft, crime and lawlessness flourished.

While recognizing these other potential influences, this book is concerned with present–future trade-offs in a variety of economic contexts, and the authors are all economists. The economic contexts examined range from private individuals making financial decisions with relatively short time horizons, through to political representatives who must make decisions on behalf of the whole community, with a range of financial and non-financial consequences over the extremely long term. In the first category, the relevant decision makers include business managers, consumers and private investors, while the latter category includes governments, bureaucrats, and so-called ‘ethical’ investors.

Contents

1. Time and discounting in economic decision making  David J. Pannell and Steven G.M. Schilizzi

2. Investigating net benefits from alternative uses of resources  Bill Malcolm

3. Avoiding simplistic assumptions in discounting cash flows for

private decisions  David J. Pannell

4. Compounding and discounting under risk: Net present values

and real option values  Greg Hertzler

5. Risk, discounting and the public sector  John Quiggin

6. Reconsidering reconsidered: Why sustainable discounting need

not be inconsistent over time  John C.V. Pezzey

7. Discounting the distant future using short time horizons:

Investments with irreversible benefits  Steven G.M. Schilizzi

8. Discounting future prospects, and the quest for sustainability  Alan Randall

9. How should we discount the future? An environmental

perspective  Michael D. Young and Darla Hatton MacDonald

10. Discounting the future  Cédric Philibert

11. Discounting the distant future: Why so many voices and so

little consensus?  Steven G.M. Schilizzi

12. Time will tell: Pending questions on discounting  Steven G.M. Schilizzi and David J. Pannell

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Further Reading

Pannell, D.J. and Schilizzi, S. (eds) (2006). Economics and the Future: Time and Discounting in Private and Public Decision Making, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA.

Buy it from the publisher here.

Pannell, D.J. (2005). Thinking like an economist 9: Time is money, Pannell Discussions, No. 33, 3 January 2005

Pannell, D.J. (2005). Thinking like an economist 10: Values in the very long term, Pannell Discussions, No. 34, 10 January 2005

Pinker, S. (1997). How the Mind Works, London: Penguin.

86 – Adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders: implications for research and extension

A multi-disciplinary team has published a review of past research on adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders. Here is an edited extract summarising implications of the review for researchers and extension agents.

We provide the following suggestions for biophysical scientists to help them achieve greater adoption by landholders of conservation practices being researched (based on Marsh, 1998).

(i) Be conscious of the type of practices that landholders adopt more readily – those with high relative advantage and high trialability. Appreciate that landholders have legitimate reasons for non-adoption. If the community has a wish to reduce a particular form of environmental degradation originating from rural properties, but the available practices for reducing the degradation conflict with goals of landholders (e.g. salinity treatments highly unprofitable to farmers), one sound response for scientists is to consider the viability of developing new technologies or practices that achieve both community and landholder goals.

(ii) Encourage a participatory process. Working with landholders forces researchers and extension workers to recognise that their own goals may be different to landholders’ goals, and reduces the risk of them making incorrect or over-simplified assumptions about what landholders’ goals really are. In a participatory project, the research/extension can be adapted in response to this improved understanding. Such interaction also increases landholders’ knowledge of the research and their ownership of, and faith in, the results. It may help landholders to understand and appreciate the goals of researchers. Participation also helps to develop better programs and recommendations by making better use of local knowledge so that recommendations are more often corroborated by subsequent experience, and in this way promotes landholders’ trust in R&D and extension over the longer term.

(iii) Look constructively at what landholders are doing already. Work with them where possible rather than against them (or at least acknowledge the difficulty of getting them to stop believing that what they are already doing is appropriate). This suggestion acknowledges the importance of local knowledge in landholders’ decision making, and the importance of respecting their personal goals and perceptions. We suggest that scientific and local knowledge can be highly complementary.

(iv) Adoption of conservation practices by landholders is not solely a biophysical issue, it is also an economic, social and psychological issue, so biophysical researchers can benefit from working closely with economists, sociologists and psychologists. Social scientists should be involved in projects from an early stage, including in problem definition and project design, so that their advice can influence the direction of the research, rather than being limited to analyzing the results (e.g. attempting to explain landholders’ responses or lack of response).

Attending to these suggestions would help to enhance trust and credibility in the relationship between researchers and landholders. This is crucial if researchers are to influence the adoption process.

Given the importance of trialability for adoption of an innovation, it may be useful for researchers and extension agents to consider ways in which landholder learning from trials can be enhanced. One possibility suggested is to provide information about the trial performance of familiar reference land uses or practices that are as similar to the innovation as possible, in conjunction with information about the performance of the innovation. It may be feasible to facilitate physical observation, or at least present results of physical measurements, of important processes that are not readily visible (e.g. groundwater processes). Perhaps it is possible to provide rules of thumb about final yields based on the early growth rates of plants that have long lags before harvest (e.g. woody perennials). Similarly, where a novel land-use requires large-scale adoption to achieve environmental benefits, ways to predict those benefits based on performance in small-scale trials may be helpful.

A criticism of traditional extension is that it viewed the extension process primarily as a matter of communication. Lack of adoption was blamed on a failure of the extension communication process. The solution was to better target extension and to improve the methods of information delivery. The assumption was that farmers were information deprived and relatively passive recipients of knowledge. In reality, farmers have excessive information (e.g. from consultants, banks, accountants, agronomists, agribusiness firms, other landholders), some of which is conflicting, and they are almost never passive recipients. Recognising its place within this complex web of information sources, extension needs to be more focused on credibility, reliability, legitimacy, and the decision-making process. Features of current conservation-related extension that mitigate against the development of credibility include: short-term funding, rapid turnover of staff, the youthfulness and inexperience of many staff, and the lack of technical farming expertise of many staff.

Expectations for extension. Even with the most expert and persuasive extension, landholders are not likely to change their management unless they can be convinced that the proposed changes are consistent with their goals. Therefore, expectations about the extent of change that is likely to result from extension need to be realistic. Large changes made by large numbers of landholders are not likely to be attributable to extension in most cases. For one thing, landholders and their lands are highly heterogeneous. Any given practice only advances the goals of some landholders, and often only on some of their land.

It is likely that the main contributions of extension will be through raising awareness and, to some extent, changing perceptions of the relevance and performance of an innovation. It is much more difficult (and sometimes ethically contentious) to change the goals of people. It seems that the Landcare movement in Australia has increased the emphasis given to conservation goals by landholders, but the extent of increase has been modest for most landholders.

Extension is unlikely to persuade landholders to make greater use of a practice with which they already have personal experience, unless the extension provides new information about a change that increases the attractiveness of the innovation (e.g. new information about how to better implement the innovation, or about new incentive payments to encourage adoption).

Another important issue for extension (as for science) is that it does not have automatic legitimacy and credibility – these have to be earned. The key determinant of an adviser’s credibility to a farmer is trust. Trust is, in turn, strongly related to the extent a farmer believed an adviser understands and respects the goals of the farmer. Trust determines the nature of the role that an adviser may play in the social aspects of the decision-making process of the landholder. Without trust, an adviser may only expect to participate as a provider of information that will be later evaluated within a closer circle of trusted contacts.

The conduct of extension. Any sound extension campaign needs to use multiple methods. Multiple extension channels, repetition, multiple deliverers of the message, and harnessing of peer pressure are among the standard tools of effective extension agents. Reliance on any particular method (e.g. print articles, verbal presentations, group extension, advertisements) will fall short of the potential impact on adoption from a diverse portfolio of extension approaches and channels. One advantage of using multiple approaches is that it increases the chances of reaching more of the relevant groups of landholders. Secondly, different landholders have different learning styles and prefer to receive information in different ways, or through different channels. Thirdly, repetition can help to reinforce a message and build confidence, especially if it comes through different channels and from different sources.

A notable trend in extension practice in Australia over the last 15 years has been the substantial decline in public funding for traditional one-on-one extension and a rise in group-based extension. Group-based extension is, of course, an important part of the extension system, but like any extension approach it has its limitations. In the 1990s, group-based extension processes came to be relied on in the National Landcare Program, partly in response to perceptions about their ability to harness peer pressure to address what were often perceived (incorrectly in some cases) to be environmental problems requiring collective action by landholders for their effective resolution. Group-extension processes grew in favour among extension theorists in response to an increased emphasis on adult learning principles and participation by stakeholders. They were embraced by state agriculture agencies, in significant part, for budgetary reasons.

While group-extension approaches are undoubtedly useful, the swing from individuals to groups may have gone too far. For example, the introverted personality profiles of graziers described in the work of Shrapnel and Davie (2001) indicate the continued importance of one-on-one extension. Noting the importance of credibility in effective extension, Vanclay (2004, p. 221) observed that, “Credibility is developed over time through the provision of credible, practical, useful answers that assist farmers in [their] day-to-day operations. Group facilitators who never provide on-farm advice rarely develop credibility and their ideas are easily dismissed.”

A history of valuable advice relevant to a landholder’s goals is probably the single most important source of credibility, but it can be enhanced to some extent by a wide range of factors, including: (i) authority and technical expertise of the extension agent; (ii) perceived similarity of the extension agent to their audience; (iii) local profile of the extension agent (e.g. local residence); (iv) communication skills of the extension agent; (v) personal relationships between the extension agent and landholders; and (vi) extension-agent acknowledgement of/empathy with the circumstances and problems of landholders.

Adviser credibility and trust is a valuable commodity, but it is only earned slowly. Adviser credibility and trust can be easily lost by the support of an innovation or practice clearly unsuited to local circumstances, or through the evangelical promotion of a practice that is clearly in conflict with the goals of landowners. In the past two decades, the role of government extension agents in many states has changed away from that of supporting landholders in making good decisions to achieve their own goals, towards encouraging landholders to make decisions that achieve outcomes for the public good. In many situations, this has the potential to reshape the social contract between adviser and landholder, creating a far more complex social interaction that may be less comfortable for both. The importance of this changed social relationship is not recognised by the relevant public agencies, which publicise their programs using the rhetoric of community development, yet place clear requirements for technology transfer outcomes upon their agents.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Further Reading

Marsh SP (1998) ‘What can agricultural researchers do to encourage the adoption of sustainable farming systems?’ SEA Working Paper 98/05, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Western Australia.

Shrapnel M, Davie J (2001) The influence of personality in determining farmer responsiveness to risk. Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension 7, 167-178.

Vanclay F (2004) Social principles for agricultural extension to assist in the promotion of natural resource management. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 44, 213-222.

 

This discussion is an edited extract from:

Pannell, D.J., Marshall, G.R., Barr, N., Curtis, A., Vanclay, F. and Wilkinson, R. (2006). Understanding and promoting adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 46(11): 1407-1424.

If you or your organisation subscribes to the Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture you can access the paper at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/nid/72/paper/EA05037.htm (or you can buy a copy on-line for A$25)

Otherwise, email to ask me for a copy: David.Pannell@uwa.edu.au

85 – Adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders: implications for policy

A team of economists (including myself), rural sociologists, and a social psychologist has published a cross-disciplinary review of literature on adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders. It is available online at the journal web site this week. Here is an extract from the conclusion of the paper, summarising implications of the review for policy makers.

Some government officers express frustration at the lack of adoption by landholders of conservation practices and call for additional social research to better understand adoption. Sometimes it can be helpful to better understand the adoption of specific practices, but the influences on adoption in general have been studied intensely and we believe that they are sufficiently well understood. Rather than more research into adoption, the more pressing need is to apply what is already well established in the adoption literature.

As we have seen, one implication is that if a practice is not adopted in the long term, it is because landholders are not convinced that it advances their goals sufficiently to outweigh its costs. A consequence of this is that we should avoid putting the main burden for promoting adoption onto communication, education and persuasion activities. This strategy is unfortunately common, but is destined to fail if the innovations being promoted are not sufficiently attractive to the target audience. The innovations need to be ‘adoptable’. If they are not, then communication and education activities will simply confirm a landholder’s decision not to adopt, as well as degrade the social standing of the field agents of the organisation. Extension providers should invest time and resources in attempting to ascertain whether an innovation is adoptable before proceeding with extension to promote its uptake.

For some environmental issues, the real challenge is to find or develop innovations that are not only good for the environment, but also economically superior to the practices they are supposed to replace. If such innovations cannot be identified or developed, there is no point in falling back onto communication. Promoting inferior practices will only lead to frustration for all parties.

Sometimes unattractive practices can be made sufficiently attractive by the provision of financial incentive payments (e.g. through economic policy instruments). However, it is important to be realistic about the potential of this approach. In some cases, the level of payment required to achieve sufficient adoption would be more than can be justified by the resulting environmental benefits. In some situations, the most sensible strategy is not to attempt to encourage uptake of existing technologies or systems. Rather, it may be more sensible to attempt to develop better practices (more effective and/or more adoptable), or it may be that research and policy needs to address the task of living with the problem.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Further Reading

Pannell, D.J., Marshall, G.R., Barr, N., Curtis, A., Vanclay, F. and Wilkinson, R. (2006). Understanding and promoting adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 46(11): 1407-1424.

If you or your organisation subscribes to the Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture you can access the paper at:

http://www.publish.csiro.au/nid/72/paper/EA05037.htm (or you can buy a copy on-line for A$25)

Otherwise, email to ask me for a copy: David.Pannell@uwa.edu.au