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The implications of group norms for adaptation in collectively managed agricultural systems: evidence from Sri Lankan paddy farmers

Arielle Tozier de la Poterie, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, Department of Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder
Emily K. Burchfield, Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University
Amanda R. Carrico, Department of Environmental Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder


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A growing literature seeks to explore the factors shaping adaptation to climate change. In collectively managed common pool resource systems, there is often a tension between behavior that benefits the individual and actions that benefit a larger group. Resource users in sustainable systems must therefore work together to ensure outcomes that are beneficial to the group as a whole. However, in the face of changing social, political, and environmental conditions, community norms may change, leading to the emerging of new behavioral patterns. Understanding when and why people decide to act in ways that benefit the group as a whole can help policy makers better target policies or change incentives to promote desired outcomes. This research seeks to build on research in common pool resource management and multilevel selection to understand how and why collective pressures shape individual adaptation behavior. Using qualitative data from in-depth interviews of farmers in Sri Lanka, this study confirms that collective management practices in Sri Lankan irrigation systems significantly influence farmer’s potential adaption behaviors. Based on farmer’s explanations of their own behavior, we hypothesize that farmer’s belief in the ecological necessity of cooperation and explicit government support for collective action are important drivers of collective action. Given the influence of community rules and norms, we conclude that efforts at adaptation are more likely to be successful if they target farmer organizations and communities as a whole rather than individual farmers.

Key words

agriculture; climate change adaptation; common pool resources; community-based irrigation; decision making; institutions

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087