Rethinking sustainable land management planning: Understanding the social and economic drivers of farmer decision-making in Africa

Lucy Emerton, Katherine A. Snyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Land degradation is a critical challenge to sustainable development. This paper examines factors that shape farmer decision-making around sustainable land management (SLM) practices in Tanzania and Malawi. It seeks to understand the contradictions that often exist between what research recommends, projects promote and donors invest in and what SLM options farmers actually choose to implement. It focuses on the costs, benefits and economic drivers that shape farmer's willingness and ability to invest in SLM (or that force them into situations that result in land degradation). The SLM techniques most commonly practiced, and which farmers express the greatest preference for, are often not those that yield the highest production gains, generate the greatest income, or involve the lowest costs. Meanwhile, other apparently profitable SLM techniques show relatively low rates of adoption. Farmers highlighted a wide range of non-monetary attributes and characteristics that determine whether they consider an SLM option to be economically attractive, viable and sustainable. These findings underscore the need to think beyond simple benefit/cost-based measures when prioritizing SLM interventions. Farmers’ needs, aspirations and preferences extend far beyond efforts to maximize short-term income and production gains or to minimize direct outlays and cash expenditures. We also found that significant gaps often exist between the SLM decisions farmers would like to make and those that they are actually able to undertake, given their economic circumstances and the resources available to them. If these broader economic factors and drivers of farmers’ land management decisions are not considered in SLM policy, research, planning and implementation, there is a risk that proposed interventions will do little either to address the root causes of land degradation or to meet farmers’ needs and aspirations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)684-694
Number of pages11
JournalLand Use Policy
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Africa
  • Farmer decision-making
  • Land degradation
  • Malawi
  • Sustainable land management
  • Tanzania

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Rethinking sustainable land management planning: Understanding the social and economic drivers of farmer decision-making in Africa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this