Expert blog series: From early adopters to a revolution in agriculture

Dr. Christy van Beek, expert in soil fertility and food security, explains in a series of blogs why she believes adoption level is the most underestimated factor in fertiliser recommendations. In the second blog she outlines the factors that drive adoption of fertiliser recommendations by smallholder farmers.

[BLOG 2] From early adopters to a revolution in agriculture

What drives the adoption of best practices of smallholder farmers in rural Africa? According to literature there are, of course, several factors, which I summarise as:

1) Personality

This factor relates to the famous adopters graph of Rogers (1962). This graph estimates that only about 15% of the population can be regarded as innovators and early adopters. They are the ones that will take up the innovations from start on. The other way around, the theory explains that 100% adoption will never be achieved from start on, whatever you do. There are recent modifications to this theory, which take into account the wider context of the farmer, but the conclusion remains the same; you cannot get 100% adoption because of different farmer realities.

2) Enabling environment

This factor contains the tools, skills and availability of the farmers to implement the recommendations. For example, if the recommended fertilisers are not available, adoption is (logically) nil.

3) Supporting environment

This factor relates to the extent to which farmers are motivated and supported to reach out. Are risks covered by insurances or by the social structure? The more supporting the environment, the higher the adoption.

4) Closeness of the recommendation

This one I added myself. I think it makes sense and it relates to the difference the recommendation makes compared to the existing practice. Just imagine you get a recommendation that is completely different from your current practice. Well I reckon you will be less willing to change your daily practice compared to a recommendation that will only slightly affect your current practices. However, being too close to the current practice will also not have much impact. Then it is just a continuation of the current situation, which some call ‘recycling poverty’.

The adoption maximum starts close to common practice and increases in time

These four factors have a close interaction; one cannot go without the other. The ‘trick’ is to put them all in place. Making a fertiliser recommendation that contains only locally available inputs, is supported by the community and is close (but not equal) to existing practices. The highest impact is made when the recommendation is a considerable improvement compared to the current practice and is applied. In other words it is adopted by many farmers. Therefore, I consider the adoption maximum as a trajectory, instead of a static figure. It starts close to the current practice and increases in time.

Dr. Christy van Beek.