What makes farmers adopt agroforestry?

Knowledge and adoption CCAFS

Photo courtesy of CCAFS

Although agroforestry is known to offer a wide range of livelihood benefits to farmers – higher crop yields and incomes, greater food security and better resilience to climate change – it has not been widely adopted in the tropics.

Adoption may depend as much, if not more, on internal factors such as knowledge, attitudes and perceptions as it does on external factors such as the characteristics of the farmer or the external environment, says a review recently published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.

“In the past, researchers tended to mainly study how the characteristics of an innovation and the household influenced whether or not a new agricultural technology was adopted, “explains Seline Meijer, PhD student with the World Agroforestry Centre and University College Dublin, and lead author the review.

“Intrinsic variables such as psychological and motivational factors were often overlooked. Now, we are seeing more attention being given to the internal decision-making process.”

After reviewing some general theories on decision making, Meijer and colleagues present their own analytical framework for assessing the adoption of new agricultural innovations; one which places knowledge, attitudes and perceptions at the centre of decision making.

The framework is used to categorize different adoption studies on agroforestry technologies in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to a better understanding of the broader picture when it comes to how decisions are made.

“We believe there is an intermediate step in the adoption process, where farmer characteristics and economic variables affect adoption indirectly,” says Meijer. “These external factors influence internal factors – knowledge and perceptions – which in turn affect farmers’ attitudes about whether or not to adopt an innovation.”

To illustrate how this occurs, Meijer explains that the first step farmers take in decision-making is to develop knowledge about an innovation, such as its existence, how to apply it and how it might benefit yields and the environment, as well as the risks and costs involved. This factual knowledge about the innovation forms the basis of perceptions the farmer has about it. But perceptions do not always reflect reality.

Combined, it is knowledge and perceptions that determine a farmer’s attitude about whether or not to adopt a new technology. But the attributes of the farmer, the innovation and external environment all help shape knowledge, perceptions and attitudes.

For example, a farmer who has a relatively high level of education or who is positioned well in social networks will have greater access to knowledge about new technologies, which affects their perceptions and attitudes.

If a farmer lives in an area with a favourable climate and his or her land has good soil then they may have a more positive attitude towards new agricultural technologies compared to a farmer who is faced with more challenging circumstances.

Many studies into the challenges facing agroforestry adoption have looked only at the influence of external factors which may be why these have not been able to fully explain relatively low rates of adoption.

Meijer stresses that the review does not state that knowledge, attitudes and perceptions about the benefits and challenges of a new technology are the only thing which plays a role in a farmer’s decision to adopt it. Farmer characteristics and economic variables are also very important.

“Both internal and external factors need to be considered simultaneously rather than separately in order to better understand how decisions are made.”

The review and the framework put forward have important implications for the dissemination of new technologies, not just in agroforestry, but in many areas of agriculture.

“If we can understand the knowledge and attitudes people have towards agricultural innovations and how these are brought about, then we can design projects that are locally relevant and therefore likely to be adopted,” says Meijer.

Download the full paper:

Meijer, S. S., Catacutan, D., Ajayi, O. C., Sileshi, G. W. & Nieuwenhuis, M. 2015. The role of knowledge, attitudes and perceptions in the uptake of agricultural and agroforestry innovations among smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 13(1), 40-54.  DOI:10.1080/14735903.2014.912493


Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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