Sustainable agriculture

Farmer Behaviour, Agricultural Management and Climate Change


Farmers have a long record of adapting to climate change, but now face the challenge of even greater adaptation of their land use and production practices.

For policy makers, an added challenge is that cultural and social factors such as education, information and traditional local practices can facilitate or hinder the implementation of adaptation and mitigation actions. Research has shown that behavioural factors influence the outcome of policy incentives in that they can either complement or constrain the effects of policies.

Drawing on the experiences of OECD countries, this report underlines the important of considering farmer behaviour when seeking to improve both the environmental effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of policies.

The report identifies policy options that would contribute to a sustainable and resilient agricultural sector in the context of climate change. The environmental outcome of policy instruments is usually much lower than their potential due to institutional, educational, social and political constraints. Policy incentives, education and information, and consistency and compatibility with traditional local practices, all play a determining role in the actual outcome.

Four main policy implications emerge from this analysis:

  • A holistic approach is needed. An agricultural sector that can contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation to climate change is likely to require a combination of policy instruments and other mechanisms, such as habits, cognition and norms which can influence farmer behaviour.
  • Behavioural change should be understood at the local level. In order to deal with spatial heterogeneity, it is important that policy recognizes that performance of different policy instruments varies over both landscape and farmers.
  • “Nudging” could be a useful approach to guide policy. Nudging implies a small change in the social context that alters behavior without forcing anyone to do anything. An example of a nudge approach is visualisation such as eco-labelling (carbon footprinting). This approach encourages farmers to establish what they need to do, and allows their efforts to be conveyed to consumers through labelling.
  • Forming networks of farmers or working collectively can play an important role. Social norms – or social capital – could potentially influence collective action (various forms of group activity) of farmers. Collective options should be given serious consideration as an alternative to the market or to regulation in addressing many agricultural and natural resource problems. As both adaptation and mitigation are closely linked to public benefits (shared value), strategies to encourage farmer co-operation have been a feature of government policy.

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