Category Archives: Behaviour

309 – Why do fishers in Chile put up with poachers?

Fishers in Chile have been given exclusive rights to fish in particular areas, to give them an incentive to avoid over-fishing. In theory, they should be looking out for illegal poachers and reporting them to authorities, but they often don’t bother to do this. We wondered why.

Many fisheries around the world are over-fished, in some cases to the extent that the total catch of fish is less than it would be if fishing effort were reduced. Often, the over-fishing occurs because individual fishers have no incentive to reduce their own catch; if they do so, the fish they leave will be caught by other fishers, because the fishery is “open-access”.

Various policy approaches have been used to try to address this, including limits on fishing gear, limits on the length of a fishing season, and quotas on how many fish can be caught. A relatively recent approach has been the creation of Territorial User Rights for Fishers (TURFs). In this system, a group of fishers forms a cooperative, and they are given exclusive rights to catch the fish in a certain area (Wilen et al. 2012; Gelcich et al. 2012).

The idea is that, because other fishers outside the cooperative cannot come in and poach the conserved fish, members of the cooperative have an incentive to keep their own level of catch at a sensible level. Of course, this only works if the poachers are actually kept out.

One of my PhD students, Katrina Davis, was working on fisheries management in a part of Chile, and she found that fishers who were part of a TURF cooperative were often making no effort to detect poachers or report them to authorities. She wondered why.

One could imagine various reasons:

  • A judgement that the benefits of reducing poaching would be small. (Katrina’s previous research had shown that this was not true (Davis et al. 2015), but the fishers may have had a different perception.)
  • Concerns about the cost of monitoring TURF areas, especially those that were located at some distance from home.
  • Social norms that would make people uncomfortable about reporting others.
  • Concerns about personal safety if the poachers responded with violence.
  • Lack of action by government to penalise poachers who are reported.

Katrina conducted a survey of the fishers to get to the bottom of this (Davis et al. 2017). She’s pretty fluent in Spanish, which would have helped.

She found that it was mainly about failures of government.

Fishers believe that “the judicial process in Chile does not sufficiently recognise the negative impacts of poaching, and that punishments are not sufficiently severe to deter poachers. Fishers also complained that government institutions, such as the navy or fisheries service, do not always respond to their distress calls when they detect poachers in their management areas.” (Davis et al. 2017, p.676).

Thus the government often fails to meet their side of the bargain. It would be really frustrating to fishers who went to the bother of reporting poachers only to find that their report was ignored, or that the poachers got off with trivial fines. No wonder they stopped monitoring or reporting the poachers.

What this amounts to is that the rights that have been allocated to the fishers’ cooperative are greatly diminished. They are rights in name but not in reality.

It highlights that even where a kind of privatisation approach is used to manage a natural resource, there continues to be a critical role for government to protect and enforce the rights that have been created.

Further reading

Davis, K., Kragt, M., Gelcich, S., Schilizzi, S. and Pannell, D.J. (2015). Accounting for enforcement costs in the spatial allocation of marine zones, Conservation Biology 29(1), 226-237. Journal web page

Davis, K., Kragt, M., Burton, M., Schilizzi, S., Gelcich, S. and Pannell, D.J. (2017). Why are fishers not enforcing their marine user rights? Environmental and Resource Economics 67(4), 661-681. Journal web page

Wilen,. J.E., Cancino, J. and Uchida, H. (2012). The economics of Territorial Use Rights Fisheries, or TURFs, Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 6(2), 237-257. Journal web page ♦ IDEAS page

Gelcich, S., Fernández, M., Godoy, N., Canepa, A., Prado, L. and Castilla, J.C. (2012). Territorial User Rights for Fisheries as ancillary instruments for marine coastal conservation in Chile, Conservation Biology 26(6), 1005–1015. Journal web page

304 – Predicting behaviour change by farmers

I have a new paper out describing ADOPT, the Adoption and Diffusion Outcome Prediction Tool. We’ve paid the money to make it Open Access, so I hope you will make it worth our while having done that by going to the journal web site and downloading the paper for free.

There are many hundreds of research papers on the adoption of new practices by farmers. Pretty much all of them set out to explain the relative contributions of different factors to the past adoption or non-adoption of particular practices in particular regions. There are a bunch of review papers that try to make sense of the voluminous literature (including a beauty by Pannell et al. (2006)).

However, neither the original papers nor the reviews set out to address an issue that really matters to many people working in the agricultural sector, in research, extension, natural resource management, policy, sales, etc. That issue is the likely future adoption of a new practice that has not yet been adopted. An interdisciplinary group of us set out to fill this gap by developing ADOPT.

There are a large number of users of ADOPT – there have been over 1000 downloads of the tool, and many examples where it has been used effectively in planning or evaluation of research, extension or policy.

Now we have published this paper, which describes how we developed and validated the tool, how it is structured, and some example of its use.

You can download the paper for free here and you can download the ADOPT tool for free here. If you do it quickly, you’ll be one of the first to get a new update of the model, just released on June 29.

Also available now is Version 1.0 of the “Smallholder” version of ADOPT, designed for use in developing countries. Download it from the same web site here.

Also see for a set of videos on the topic of farmers adopting new practices.


Kuehne, G., Llewellyn, R., Pannell, D.J., Wilkinson, R., Dolling, P., Ouzman, J. and Ewing, M. (2017). Predicting farmer uptake of new agricultural practices: a tool for research, extension and policy, Agricultural Systems 156, 115-125. Journal web site for free download of the paper.

Pannell, D.J. and Vanclay, F.M. (eds) (2011). Changing Land Management: Adoption of New Practices by Rural Landholders, CSIRO Publishing, Canberra. Available at the publisher’s website.

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. Journal web site, or email to ask for a copy.


273 – Behaviour change comes in pairs

Some key factors that drive adoption of new practices come in pairs: one aspect related to the performance of the new practice, and one aspect related to how much people care about that performance. Many models of adoption miss this, including famous ones.

Whatever work or hobbies we do, there are regularly new practices coming along that we are encouraged to adopt: new technologies (e.g. a new iPhone, an auto-steer crop harvester), or different behaviours (e.g. reducing our usage of energy or water, changing the allocation of land to different crops).

The agricultural examples above reflect that some of my research is on adoption of new practices by farmers, but the issue I’m talking about today is relevant in all spheres where people adopt new practices.

It is well recognised that people vary in the personal goals that drive their choices about whether to adopt new practices that are promoted to them. Amongst commercial farmers, for example, there are differences in the emphases they give to profit, risk and environmental outcomes.

Any attempt to understand or model adoption of new practices needs to recognise the potential importance of these different goals. Many studies do include variables representing these three goals, and sometimes others.

However, it is less often recognised that there are two aspects to each of these goals when looking at a new practice:

  1. The extent to which the new practice would deliver the outcome measured by that goal: more profit, less risk, or better environmental outcomes.
  2. How much the decision maker cares about those particular outcomes.

These two aspects are closely linked. They interact to determine how attractive a new practice is, but they are distinctly different. One is not a proxy for the other.

extension 1For example, suppose a farmer is considering two potential new practices for weed control. The farmer judges that new practice A is much riskier (less reliable) than new practice B.

How much will this affect the farmer’s decision making? That depends on the farmer’s attitude to risk. For a farmer who has a strong aversion to risk, practice B will be strongly favoured, at least from the risk perspective. (Other goals will probably also come into play as well.) For a farmer who doesn’t care about risk one way or the other, the difference in riskiness between practices A and B is of no consequence. Some farmers (a minority) have been found to be risk-seeking, so they would prefer practice A.

The same sort of pattern occurs with other goals as well. The attractiveness of a new practice depends on how much difference it makes to profit and on how strongly the farmer is motivated by profit. Or how much it affects the environment and how strongly the farmer cares about the environment.

Amongst the thousands of research studies of farmer adoption of new practices, most represent only one goal-related variable where two are needed. For example, they include a measure of risk aversion, but ignore differences in the level of riskiness of the new practice amongst different adopters. Or they represent differences in the profitability of the new practice, but not differences in how much the adopters care about profit.

It doesn’t help that the issue is not recognised in common conceptual frameworks used by social scientists studying adoption behaviour, such as the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975) and the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen 1991).

It should be recognised in a sound economics framework (e.g. Abadi Ghadim and Pannell 1999 do so for risk), but it often isn’t included in the actual numerical model that is estimated.

The only framework I’ve seen that really captures this issue properly is our framework for ADOPT – the Adoption and Diffusion Outcome Prediction Tool. Hopefully this insight can diffuse to other researchers over time.

Further reading

Abadi Ghadim, A.K. and Pannell, D.J. (1999). A conceptual framework of adoption of an agricultural innovation, Agricultural Economics 21, 145-154. Journal web page ◊ IDEAS page

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50, 179-211.

Fishbein, M. and Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, Attitude, Intention and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

227 – ‘Disadoption’ after a project ends

There are various programs and projects around the world that aim to encourage farmers to adopt a new practice of one sort or another. It’s not uncommon to observe farmers participating in such projects, but then reverting to their old practices once the project ends. What are the implications of this?

If a program has a limited life, it is usually most realistic to assume that funding for projects will be temporary. Examples include Australia’s national natural resource management programs (Caring for our Country, the Natural Heritage Trust, and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality) which provided one-off funding for projects, usually three years or less. Assuming that we want benefits from these programs to be enduring (which we surely do), we would seek to avoid the sort of scenario I outlined above, where farmers abandon the new practices once the flow of program money ends.

This implies that these programs should be careful in targeting their resources to promotion of practices that that are expected to provide positive net benefits to the target farmers. That is, they are practices that, once the farmers learn about them, will be attractive enough to be continued without ongoing support.

This sort of thinking seems to me to have been completely absent from the above programs, and from many other temporary programs around the world. For example, last week I attended an interesting workshop on Conservation Agriculture in Africa and South Asia, and there seem to have been many examples in that space of temporary ‘adoption’ that was abandoned once projects ended.

Once this has occurred, the logical response is to cease any further efforts to promote the activity, unless you have strong reasons to expect that the circumstances have changed significantly. Examples of relevant changes could include: a new version of the practice has been developed that will perform better for these farmers, a policy barrier to its adoption has been removed, or commodity prices have changed in a way that makes the practice more attractive.This sort of ‘disadoption’ actually gives us powerful insights into the practice that was being promoted. The farmers have tried out the practice in their own context, and decided to stop doing it, so they are making a relatively well-informed judgement that the practice does not suit them. This is clearer and more powerful than simply observing that a practice has never been adopted in an area. If it has never been tried out, you probably can’t be sure that it wouldn’t work if it was tried. But if it has been tried and then abandoned, you can be relatively sure about it.

Unfortunately, this sort of common-sense response often doesn’t occur. In the national salinity program we found cases where farmers had been paid repeatedly to ‘adopt’ perennial pasture, but had ‘disadopted’ it each time. In Africa, relatively untargeted promotion of Conservation Agriculture has persisted despite it being well known that ‘adoption’ often evaporates once programs end.

A key understanding is that participation in these sorts of programs does not actually constitute adoption. From the farmer’s perspective, it’s really a case of farmers trialing the practice to see if it works sufficiently well for them. (That’s why I’ve put ‘adoption’ in quotes above.) The benefit of the program is that it allows farmers to make better-informed decisions about adoption, whether or not those decisions are to adopt the practice.

The other implication is that funding that would have been spent on promoting non-adoptable practices should be diverted to other uses. That could include promoting those practices to farmers who have been carefully assessed as being  likely to adopt after trialing, or focusing on ways to improve the attractiveness of the practices, instead of promoting them in their current form.

Further reading

Pannell, D.J. and Roberts, A.M. (2010). The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality: A retrospective assessment, Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics54(4): 437-456. Journal web site here ♦ IDEAS page for this paper

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: (or non-subscribers can buy a copy on-line for A$25). Otherwise, email to ask for a copy.

Also see

223 – Leadership

Strong, inspiring, visionary leadership can have a huge influence on people, pulling them together and changing their direction. But is it the only thing that can achieve that? And is it necessarily a good thing?

I participated in a very interesting discussion about leadership this week. One of the participants was a radio astronomer who had been involved in the successful bid for the Square Kilometre Array project in Western Australia – a massive undertaking. She said that a key factor in getting radio astronomers to overcome their differences and unify behind the bid was a small number of outstanding leaders in the discipline. Most people in the discussion were agricultural scientists, and they were discussing whether agricultural scientists could also get a large, visionary national project funded in Australia and what could be learnt from the SKA experience.

One of agriculturalists argued that leadership is not just important for change, it is essential — that you generally don’t see big changes occur across a large group of people where the change propagates from the bottom up. That was quite thought provoking, and at the time I couldn’t think of a counter example.

Later on I identified a couple of economics-related examples where major changes regularly happen without any leadership at all. One is our adoption of new technologies. Think of Steve Jobs and Apple. No doubt, Jobs was the archetype of a strong, inspiring, visionary leader within Apple, and had a huge influence on the company and its staff. But outside the company, it was different. We didn’t all buy ipods, iphones, ipads and ikettles because we were inspired and led by Steve Jobs. (Well, maybe a few did, but mostly not.) We did it because these are great products, and perhaps because Apple has a cool reputation. Millions of us changed our behaviour towards purchase of Apple products, and that in turn further influenced our behaviour in myriad ways, but there was no unifying leader that directly influenced us to change in these ways.

Another example is the behaviour of people in markets. Markets can have a major influence on the behaviour of people by the simple mechanism of pricing. If there is a shortage of a product (say, wheat), the price is bid up. This encourages more producers to produce wheat, and it encourages consumers of wheat to cut back on their wheat consumption, so the shortage is addressed. The wonder of the market is that there is no leadership required for this to happen. It occurs efficiently and reliably through the aggregation of many individual decisions.

Could these examples provide a different way (other than by leadership) to bring agricultural scientists together, to push them in a particular new direction? Perhaps it would be possible to think about the incentives that scientists face and influence their behaviour by modifying those incentives. That might mean that we wouldn’t need inspiring leadership, but I think we would still require strong leadership with a clear vision to arrange for the new incentives to be put in place. So for this particular type of change, my feeling is that the comment was right; leadership is crucial.

My other thought about this, though, is that we should be careful what we wish for. The directions that leaders take us in are not necessarily good ones. In the agricultural context, I’d point to the history of salinity in Australia. The profile of salinity as a problem for agriculture (as well as for water, biodiversity and infrastructure) grew through the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in the creation of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality in 2000. A small number of high-profile scientist leaders/advocates were pivotal in the creation of this $1.4 billion program. It was the one of the biggest environmental programs in Australia’s history, and its creation must have seemed like a huge success for those who had been pushing for it. But in fact the program was fundamentally misconceived. It would have needed to be designed and delivered in entirely different ways to have any chance of meeting its objectives. In the wake of its obvious failure, resources for salinity management and salinity research have almost completely dried up. So the apparent major success of getting a huge national program established was actually the beginning of the end of the issue as a national priority.

Further reading

Hermalin, B.E. (1998). Toward an Economic Theory of Leadership: Leading by Example, American Economic Review 88(5), 1188-1206. IDEAS page for this paper

Pannell, D.J. and Roberts, A.M. (2010). The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality: A retrospective assessment, Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 54(4): 437-456. Journal web site hereIDEAS page for this paper