Agricultural information exchange and organizational ties: The effect of network topology on managing agrodiversity
Increasing agricultural diversity, particularly perennial based agroforestry systems, is re-emerging as a mechanism for ecological and economic benefits through the mitigation of environmental risks. By and large, rural producer social networks are important to the exchange of information on such complex systems and associated agrarian management practices. These information networks are not restricted to producers as other agrarian-based organizations are active within the larger agricultural innovation system. However, little is known about the effects of such organizational ties on the emergent properties of producer network structures, which play a critical role in the successful exchange of complex agrarian information and the adoption of management practices that result in higher agrodiversity. Accordingly, this study investigates information network structures within the agrarian environment in order to understand the barriers to, and development of, effective farm management, specifically the management of agrodiversity. Network data was collected from producers in two geographically separate areas in the economically important cocoa (Theobroma cacao) growing region of Ghana [Site A, located close to an urban centre, had high frequency of contact with agro-environmental organizations and Site B, in a remote location, had a low frequency of contact] on the exchange of agroforestry management practices. Results showed that although 31% of producers in Site A relied exclusively on fellow producers for agroecological information, the majority of producers formed ties to one or more of the rural organizations operating within these communities. And producers with greater access to organizations were situated in agrarian information networks with lower density, thus more diffuse networks. Furthermore, producers with ties to organizations were likely to be positioned in more efficient information networks as identified by a low level of redundant ties and this efficiency was positively correlated to higher reported on-farm agrodiversity. The success of information exchange on agro-environmental practices, such as managing agrodiversity, within producer networks may be distinctly coupled with the presence of organizational ties. Unlike common-pooled resources that may require highly dense networks for trust-based collective action, diverse agricultural systems that are innovation driven arguably require diffuse networks for efficient exchange of complex information. Policy that promotes appropriate network structures for the exchange of such information is strategic for persistent cocoa production systems. This study provides further evidence of the role of information networks on the exchange and practice of innovation in agricultural systems, particularly in developing country agriculture.
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