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Polycentricity, reciprocity, and farmer adoption of conservation practices under community-based governance


  • Marshall, Graham R.


Significant steps have occurred under Australia's 'regional delivery model' towards devolving responsibilities for natural resource management (NRM) to community-based regional bodies, particularly in respect of motivating farmers to adopt priority conservation practices. Challenges remain in effectively engaging the large populations covered by these bodies, especially with these bodies expected to assume responsibilities that risk them becoming perceived as extensions of government and favoring particular stakeholders. In this article, I examine whether polycentric systems of collaborative community-based governance can help address these challenges. The examination involves double-censored regression analyses of data from postal surveys of farmers in three regions. The findings suggest that community-based approaches are capable under the regional delivery model of motivating greater voluntary cooperation from farmers than otherwise possible. They highlight the importance of farmers coming to adopt reciprocity strategies in their key institutional relationships under this model. It seems subregional bodies have an advantage over regional bodies in motivating such behavior from farmers because the former are better positioned to engage them sufficiently to turn around norms of free-riding or opposition entrenched by earlier paternalistic approaches to agri-environmental conservation. This indicates the value of a polycentric approach to community-based NRM wherein responsibilities are devolved to the lowest possible governance level consistent with the principle of subsidiarity. The economic dividend from increased voluntary adoption of conservation practices under this approach arises from the reduced transaction, political and other opportunity costs of achieving the same result entirely through coercion or financial inducements.

Suggested Citation

  • Marshall, Graham R., 2009. "Polycentricity, reciprocity, and farmer adoption of conservation practices under community-based governance," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(5), pages 1507-1520, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:68:y:2009:i:5:p:1507-1520

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Andrew Jordan, 2000. "The politics of multilevel environmental governance: subsidiarity and environmental policy in the European Union," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 32(7), pages 1307-1324, July.
    2. Marshall, Graham R., 2004. "Farmers cooperating in the commons? A study of collective action in salinity management," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(3-4), pages 271-286, December.
    3. Krister Andersson & Elinor Ostrom, 2008. "Analyzing decentralized resource regimes from a polycentric perspective," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 41(1), pages 71-93, March.
    4. Feder, Gershon & Just, Richard E & Zilberman, David, 1985. "Adoption of Agricultural Innovations in Developing Countries: A Survey," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 255-298, January.
    5. Knowler, Duncan & Bradshaw, Ben, 2007. "Farmers' adoption of conservation agriculture: A review and synthesis of recent research," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 25-48, February.
    6. Abadi Ghadim, Amir K. & Pannell, David J., 1999. "A conceptual framework of adoption of an agricultural innovation," Agricultural Economics, Blackwell, vol. 21(2), pages 145-154, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Geoff Kuehne, 2013. "My decision to sell the family farm," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 30(2), pages 203-213, June.
    2. Kuzdas, Christopher & Wiek, Arnim & Warner, Benjamin & Vignola, Raffaele & Morataya, Ricardo, 2015. "Integrated and Participatory Analysis of Water Governance Regimes: The Case of the Costa Rican Dry Tropics," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 254-268.
    3. Cooke, Benjamin & Moon, Katie, 2015. "Aligning ‘public good’ environmental stewardship with the landscape-scale: Adapting MBIs for private land conservation policy," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 152-158.
    4. Marshall, Graham R., 2013. "Transaction costs, collective action and adaptation in managing complex social–ecological systems," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 185-194.


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