Contextual realities and poverty traps: Why South Asian smallholder farmers negatively evaluate conservation agriculture
Conservation agriculture-based sustainable intensification (CASI) is gaining prominence as an agricultural pathway to poverty reduction and enhancement of sustainable food systems among government and development actors in the Eastern Gangetic Plains (EGP) of South Asia. Despite substantial investment in research and extension programs and a growing understanding of the agronomic, economic and labor-saving benefits of CASI, uptake remains limited. This study explores farmer experiences and perspectives to establish why farmers choose not to implement CASI systems despite a strong body of recent scientific evidence establishing the benefits of them doing so. Through thematic coding of semi-structured interviews, key constraints are identified, which establishes a narrative that current households’ resources are insufficient to enable practice change, alongside limited supporting structures for resource supplementation. Such issues create a dependency on subsidies and outside support, a situation that is likely to impact any farming system change given the low-risk profiles of farmers and their limited resource base. This paper hence sets out broad implications for creating change in smallholder farming systems in order to promote the adoption of sustainable agricultural technologies in resource-poor smallholder contexts, especially with regard to breaking the profound poverty cycles that smallholder farmers find themselves in and which are unlikely to be broken by the current set of technologies promoted to them.