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Food for thought—examining farmers' willingness to engage in conservation stewardship around a protected area in central India

Mahi Puri, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA; Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bengaluru, India
Elizabeth F Pienaar, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA; Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Krithi K Karanth, Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bengaluru, India; Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Bette A Loiselle, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA; Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA


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Although protected areas (PAs) have long been considered a successful conservation strategy, more recent research has highlighted their ecological and sociological limitations. The extant PA network is constrained by land availability and exacerbates cultural, political, and social conflicts over access to resources. Consequently, the importance of private lands in playing a complementary role in conservation is being widely recognized. Voluntary conservation programs that encourage private landowners to adopt biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices have emerged worldwide. Landowners' willingness to participate in these programs is critical to attaining landscape-level biodiversity conservation. We adopted a multidisciplinary approach, combining economic theory of rational choice and social choice theory to explain decision making. Using a stated preference choice experiment method, we examined the role of program design and influence of demographic, economic, and socio-psychological variables on landowners' willingness to enroll in voluntary, incentive-based agroforestry programs. In 2018–2019, we surveyed 602 landowners in the buffer area of Pench Tiger Reserve, India. Landowners' willingness to engage in agroforestry depended on the amount of land to be enrolled, program duration, and incentive amount. Landowners' socio-economic characteristics, attitudes, self-efficacy, and social norms also influenced their willingness to participate. On average, landowners required Rs. 66,000 (ca. $940 USD) per acre per year to modify their land use and adopt agroforestry. Our study demonstrates that integrating voluntary agroforestry programs into India's rural development policy may allow biodiversity conservation to be balanced with agricultural productivity in buffer areas surrounding PAs. We call for a new approach that recognizes farmers as stakeholders in conservation and in creating resilient landscapes that support biodiversity and preserve livelihoods.

Key words

agroforestry; incentives; land sharing; private land; stated preference choice experiment; wildlife conservation

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087