The Role of Social Capital in Influencing the Response Capacity of Farmers to Bovine Tuberculosis
Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is one of the principal concerns currently facing the livestock industry in England. The disease has spread dramatically in recent years and is costing the country millions of pounds each year. Tens of thousands of cattle are being slaughtered annually; a huge financial and emotional burden to affected farmers. While various measures to control the disease have been taken, none have been successful in bringing it under control. Instead bTB continues to spread unabated.\ud The essence of the bTB problem is that it necessitates industry buy-in in order to implement disease control measures. It is therefore not simply an issue of regulation. Current government bTB control policy emphasises communication and cooperative working across the government and the farming industry, coupled with cost and responsibility sharing. However, previous studies have shown that relationships between farmers and the government are already strained, engendered by a sense of distrust and a lack of confidence.\ud Although some social science work has been conducted within the field of disease control and particularly bTB, the majority focuses on farmers‘ attitudes towards government policy and disease control. However, in order to implement successful disease control measures it is necessary to explore the ways in which farmers currently respond to bTB, and how their responses may be recognised by, and incorporated into, successful policy. While previous research has identified the important role of the wider social context in influencing farmers‘ attitudes and behaviour, no studies have yet provided an in-depth analysis of farmers‘ social networks in relation to bTB. In response, this study uses the lens of social capital to explore the various social ties which enhance or constrain farmers‘ capacity to respond to bTB.\ud An iterative, mixed methods approach is adopted across two phases of research. The first incorporates twenty in-depth qualitative farmer interviews, exploring various aspects of bTB risk and response strategies as well as the core features of social capital. This informs a second, quantitative phase, in which data are\ud iii\ud gathered through a self-completion postal survey of 374 farmers in the South West of England. A farmer segmentation model is developed using factor and cluster analysis and two farmer groups are identified. The first group represents vulnerable farmers who are concerned about the negative impacts of bTB, and who are internally focused with respect to their networks. Characteristically, they exhibit strong relationships with others from within the farming community. In comparison, the second group are more resilient and less concerned about the impacts of bTB on their farm business. These farmers are externally focused, mainly seeking information from the government, the National Farmers‘ Union and their vet.\ud The role of various forms of social capital is explored and an important distinction between the two farmer groups is found. Vulnerable farmers tend to be members of close networks of other farmers (bonding social capital), while resilient farmers are more likely to enjoy positive relationships with those from outside the farming community including vets (bridging social capital) and the government (linking social capital). However, while the research findings suggest that bridging and linking social capital can positively influence farmers‘ attitudes towards bTB, they do not necessarily lead to positive disease control behaviour. Statistical analysis of the data reveals no significant differences between the farmer groups in terms of their uptake of biosecurity measures, which represents an important disease avoidance strategy. A disjuncture between farmers‘ attitudes and their behaviour is therefore identified.\ud The research concludes that investment in social capital between the government and farmers should form a core area of policy through providing opportunities for consistent and regular contact, allowing for the development of trusting and productive relationships. The current situation, characterised by low levels of trust and limited uptake of recommended disease control measures by farmers, indicates incoherence with contemporary policy discourses. A better understanding of the role of social capital in influencing farmer attitudes and behaviour will enable policy makers to increase the ability of farmers to respond to bTB risk, either through disease avoidance or through more effective management and coping mechanisms.
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