Researching farmer behaviour in climate change adaptation and sustainable agriculture: lessons learned from five case studies

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Feola, Giuseppe ; Lerner, Amy M. ; Jain, Meha ; Montefrio, Marvin Joseph F. ; Nicholas, Kimberly A. (2015)

Understanding farmer behaviour is needed for local agricultural systems to produce food sustainably while facing multiple pressures. We synthesize existing literature to identify three fundamental questions that correspond to three distinct areas of knowledge necessary to understand farmer behaviour: 1) decision-making model; 2) cross-scale and cross-level pressures; and 3) temporal dynamics. We use this framework to compare five interdisciplinary case studies of agricultural systems in distinct geographical contexts across the globe. We find that these three areas of knowledge are important to understanding farmer behaviour, and can be used to guide the interdisciplinary design and interpretation of studies in the future. Most importantly, we find that these three areas need to be addressed simultaneously in order to understand farmer behaviour. We also identify three methodological challenges hindering this understanding: the suitability of theoretical frameworks, the trade-offs among methods and the limited timeframe of typical research projects. We propose that a triangulation research strategy that makes use of mixed methods, or collaborations between researchers across mixed disciplines, can be used to successfully address all three areas simultaneously and show how this has been achieved in the case studies. The framework facilitates interdisciplinary research on farmer behaviour by opening up spaces of structured dialogue on assumptions, research questions and methods employed in investigation.
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