Agriculture is still the main source of employment in rural areas, where poverty is most prevalent, but climate variability threatens the food security of the growing population. Knowing how sustainable practices are carried out is one thing, but applying them to the farmland and disseminating them to neighbors is another. Our grant-receiver Ayu Pratiwi has studied how sustainable farming practices are taught.

Agriculture is still the main source of employment in rural areas, where poverty is most prevalent, but climate variability threatens the food security of the growing population. Managing climate risks while maintaining agricultural production is therefore urgent and requires joint-efforts. Knowing how sustainable practices are carried out is one thing, but applying them to the farmland and disseminating them to neighbors is another. Even after learning a technology, farmers do not necessarily adopt it directly in their farmland because new practices often come with uncertain future results and risks. Therefore, the question is no longer how to teach or inform the farmers about new sustainable practices that are better (most likely, they might already know it), but how to change the behavior of farmers, so that they are more open towards using and trying new technologies.

Introducing location component in the agricultural training

The available agricultural training programs often target the most prominent members of the communities, who are then expected to disseminate the theories and practices in the communities they currently live in. In a way, this will aggravate inequality amongst the farmers, because only selected community members to have the right to be gatekeepers of information.

Sustainable farming training in Indonesia

A trainer shows farmers how to apply technologies to coffee plants.

Farmers learning sustainable farming practices in Indonesia

In-class lectures about coffee and cocoa cultivation

We tried to do things differently in a recently published paper (in Pratiwi and Suzuki (2020)), using the cases of coffee and cocoa farmers in Indonesia. Our contribution was twofold, the first is that the training allocations were randomized, meaning that everyone regardless of their socio-economic status could participate fairly through lottery assignments. Secondly, we conducted three days of training with identical content in three different locations, where selected farmers would be transported to the location where they were assigned at random.

The three locations were (1) their hometown (2) different district but still within the same island, and finally (3) the most remote but more advanced location close to the capital city, situated on the neighbouring island. In our study, we called locations (1) and (2) intra-island locations and location (3) inter-island location. The participants spent around four days and three nights with fellow participants in the intra-island location, and five days and four nights in the inter-island location, enabling them to interact closely with their peers and exchange ideas regarding farming practices. This training taught farmers how to apply resource conservation technologies and plant rehabilitation techniques, as well as agroforestry practices and the making of organic fertilizer. We evaluated the effects of the program two years later.

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Pilot farm visit to observe how the best practices are done

Training conducted away from farmers’ hometown can be more effective

1. Training, regardless of location, increased knowledge regarding sustainable practices

Two years after the program, we evaluated the training impacts on participants’ knowledge of sustainable agricultural practices. Regardless of the location, all participants reported increased knowledge regarding these practices. This means that training can be an effective way to spread information to targeted participants. Training can besides inform those who don’t know, validate the knowledge for those who already know and strengthen beliefs about certain values for participants who have been informed previously.

2. Only training held in the more remote and advanced location drives the adoption of practices

In the case of sustainable technology adoption, only farmers trained in the most remote locations have successfully adopted technology in bundles. Location, besides representing distance, also takes into account more advanced developments in the agricultural practices. Farmers trained in inter-island location, meaning the neighboring island, appear to have revised the expected returns of using technologies from observing practices in the more developed region. In addition, because they spent more time during the trip with their fellow participants, they were exposed to alternative ways of thinking and behaving during the interactions. They would probably become more “open-minded” and receptive to new practices after these interactions.

3. These changes in behavior were driven by social networks

Apart from revised risk perceptions and longer interactions with fellow participants, what drives their behavior change? Farmers who were trained in inter-island location were found to have increased the size of their social networks with peers and farmers who have not attended training, and the frequency of contact with extension services, upon returning. An overflow of information from participants to the non-training participants was also detected.
How did the mechanism work? Inter-island training-group farmers might be considered more knowledgeable among their peers after returning. Hence, they may become more popular among people who did not go to training. In this perspective, the untrained farmers may be the first to approach the trained farmers to get more information about farming practices. Alternatively, inter-island training participants may want to show the training results following their return from the more developed island. They feel that they had gone through more advanced experiences than farmers from other training groups thus were probably more inclined to tell people about what they have learned and practiced it accordingly.

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Cocoa trees in one of the farmers’ garden

Future policy implication?

Our study offers important implications for policy-makers. The interplay between informal and formal institutions, namely networking with peers and experts simultaneously, through formally conducted training in certain locations, may have contributed strongly to changing participants’ mindsets regarding the adoption of sustainable techniques, specifically for combined practices of grafting and soil conservation. Future agricultural training should place more emphasis on the specific training environment while still ensuring the quality of the training content. The training environment could be strengthened by having them carried out in a different geographical location away from participants’ hometown and ideally in a more advanced location. During the training, participants should ideally spend time networking among themselves, so that they may obtain insights into other people’s preferences and beliefs.

Ayu Pratiwi is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Economic Geography unit, Turku School of Economics, at the University of Turku. Nessling Foundation funds her research on the effects of migration and gender upon sustainable agricultural production and consumption in the global north and south.

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