"Local Perception of Land Degradation in Developing Countries: A Simplified Analytical Framework of Driving Forces, Processes, Indicators and Coping Strategies"
Juan Pulido and Gerardo Bocco 

4 Farmers’ attitudes and strategies to cope with LD

What factors and socioeconomic characteristics of local communities govern the adoption of management strategies to cope with land degradation? What strategies do local communities adopt? In this section we discuss guidelines, which may serve for research and policy formulation. Antle et al. (2006) analyzed the feasibility of adopting conservation practices using econometric models among farmers in Peru; they found that farmers choose to invest in soil conservation technology if the cropping system becomes more productive in the short term. Okoba and Sterk (2006), in the Kenyan highlands, identified three options that the farmers would follow when facing soil degradation, depending on the severity of the process: (1) to allow nutrient replenishment by either natural or improved fallow systems; (2) to change to crop types that would adapt to relatively degraded soils; and (3) to sell soil materials for construction purposes when they became nutrient depleted. Manjoro (2006) showed that, in Kushinga Ward, Zimbabwe, farmers’ adoption of soil and water conservation practices was significantly influenced by farm size, perception of the causes and severity of soil erosion, off-farm employment, availability of animal power and access to extension services. A significant aspect was the lack of understanding of the conservation practices; a participatory learning process was then recommended. Shiferaw and Holden (1998*), in a degraded area of the Ethiopian highlands, advocated policies and technologies providing short-term benefits while at the same time allowing resource conservation. Conservation alternatives can be adopted or not by farmers depending on the specific socioeconomic or natural conditions of each place or community. For example, Hammad and Børresen (2006*) found in their research in Palestine that the adoption of stonewall terraces depended on factors such as farmers’ perceptions of erosion, land tenure and geomorphology.

In addition to the above, awareness of and attitude towards land degradation can be positively related to both severity of and susceptibility to degradation; the attitudes of Haitian peasants towards the environment were influenced by their socioeconomic status (Bayard and Jolly, 2007). This suggested that a positive attitude toward conservation would develop if farmers perceived a potential economic benefit from such practice, and that further studies were needed to analyze the importance of psychological variables for farmers’ decisions regarding land degradation. At the local level, people act according to household conditions and local economic opportunities, the priority being the satisfaction of family needs. As an adaptive strategy to meet family needs, small farmers from an upland village of northern Laos, an area under the context of soil erosion and increasing population pressure, among other restrictions, diversified their activities to generate cash, which included land use intensification and the shortening of the fallow period, and sometimes crop diversification (Lestrelin and Giordano, 2006). Diversification may depend on household characteristics such as education, age and number of family members (Lestrelin et al., 2006*; Leutlwetse, 2006) diversification also is a key strategy for survival, and reduces risks in rain-fed agriculture (Winslow et al., 2004). In some cases the choice for reducing pressure on land is to reduce the birth rate (Sankhayan et al., 2003), as shown in a catchment in Mardi, Nepal. In the case of cattle herders, some of them rely on such adaptive strategies as transhumance, forage stocking and sale of animals, as exemplified for Mali (Dembele, 2006*). Dietz et al. (2005) carried out research on livestock marketing among Mongolian pastoralists and found that herders did not have enough animals to sustain themselves in the traditional way, and that they were forced to combine subsistence livestock-grazing with a variety of other sources of income.

Agro-ecological and conservation practices that have been used to cope with or to reverse degradation processes include the following: afforestation and mechanical practices to fix dunes (Dembele, 2006*); stonewall terrace construction to reduce runoff and erosion, and to preserve soil moisture (crucial in low rainfall areas) (Hammad and Børresen, 2006); and agro-forestry practices, including fallow (Malley et al., 2006). These techniques have proven efficient in restoration of degraded lands and they deserve attention in conservation plans (Neupane and Thapa, 2001; Pattanayak and Mercer, 2002); caution is needed, because the adoption of conservation practices is largely site-specific (Lapar and Pandey, 1999; Eswaran et al., 2001).

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