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Social factors affect acceptance of sustainable technologies

By Melanie J. Martin - 04 Jun 2011 13:20:0 GMT
Social factors affect acceptance of sustainable technologies

Scientists must consider social factors that determine acceptance of new agricultural technologies and policies, say Standford researchers. Local farmers may only accept sustainable and more cost-efficient methods if trusted resources promote the new methods, says the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers, Ellen McCullough and co-author Pamela Matson, studied how farmers in the Yaqui Valley in Sonora, Mexico adopted more sustainable technologies. They found that a community's most accepted resource is not necessarily the most qualified.

In the case of the Yaqui Valley, where pollution from wheat farms takes a high toll on the environment, farmers turn to credit unions far more often than the internationally renowned International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, based in Mexico, says Donna Hesterman in the press release.

Locals hold credit unions in high esteem for good reason-they depend on these organizations. Credit unions provide loans, insurance for crops, seeds, and fertilizer, as well as technical and managerial support, says Hesterman. In fact, even when given the opportunity to use a nitrogen reading tool that would save up to 17 percent of profits, farmers refused until the credit unions supported the idea, she adds.

The study shows that scientists or groups working to promote sustainable practices must develop partnerships with the community organizations that locals trust. Directing information to the most socially accepted channels will ultimately benefit local communities and environments. To determine these channels, they must talk with locals to find out, from the source, where they get their information from.

Other factors influencing adoption of new sustainable practices may include the farmer's age and education level, according to a 2009 article in the journal HortScience that focused on research in the U.S.

After age 54, likelihood of adopting new practices decreases except for labor-saving practices or those requiring no investment, explain the authors. Increased education increased the chances that farmers would adopt sustainable practices. Perceptions of their own abilities to use new methods also played a role. Meanwhile, the operation size did not seem to be a factor. A sense of social and environmental responsibility played a role, but was not a consistent deciding factor, the authors say. The role of different social factors may vary by culture.

In short, understanding the influence of community organizations may play a large role in helping communities adopt new practices. However, researchers should also conduct interviews and surveys with locals to find out not only where they get their information from, but what motivates them to seek new technologies or practices. Communicating with local farmers before developing the technologies, when possible, may help researchers to devise new technologies and methods of introducing them that appeal to local people.

Top Image Credit: © Carlos Caetano.