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New article: Why do smallholder farmers dis‐adopt conservation agriculture? Insights from Malawi

International donors and advisory bodies, governments and non‐governmental organisations (NGOs) are actively promoting conservation agriculture (CA) to improve agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change impacts. However, many smallholder farmers continue to dis‐adopt (abandon) the technology. Reasons for dis‐adoption are not well known.

This article examines farmers’ lived experiences and perceptions of CA to understand why smallholder farmers dis‐adopt CA in Malawi. Improving understanding of dis‐adoption of this seemingly appropriate intervention is important to achieve sustained adoption and for ensuring long‐lasting impacts of agricultural development project interventions. A mixed methods approach was used, involving household questionnaire survey and focus group discussions with smallholder farmers. Findings reveal that while drivers of dis‐adoption are multi‐dimensional and multi‐layered, they are rooted in shortfalls of CA promoters’ implementation arrangements. While CA proponents market CA as a time‐saving, labour‐saving and yield‐improving technology, respondents report contrary experiences.

Authors' findings show that farmers lack sufficient technical support and encounter technological, social, institutional and economic challenges. These, coupled with unfulfilled expectations, undermine ownership of CA projects and lead to dis‐adoption. This highlights a need to: (1) collaboratively design projects to better suit local needs and context with inclusive implementation arrangements; (2) emphasise climate resilience benefits of CA rather than economic benefits to manage farmers’ expectations; (3) intensify multi‐disciplinary research that incorporates farmers’ knowledge and experiences to develop suitable, flexible and low‐input CA packages; (4) provide regular hands‐on technical extension support to farmers.