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Record, monitor, cultivate smartly

In a world of depleting natural resources and climate change induced uncertainties, the need to guarantee livelihoods is an urgent one. By integrating improvements in cultivation with climate responsiveness, climate-smart agriculture (CSA) initiatives seek to 1) increase productivity 2) enhance resilience and 3) reduce/remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. We know that growing practices in keeping with CSA principles have long been in use but mainstreaming them requires recognizing existing agricultural innovations; identifying institutional and behavioral barriers to adoption, and scaling the approach across regions. A CSA portfolio can include the use of agroclimatic information for decision-making, biofortified and drought-resistant crops, home gardens, water harvesting, composting, and organic fertilizers.

Let us go on a 'Behavior-Centered Design' journey and discover how we can promote climate-smart agriculture.

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Identify the actors, behaviors, and context

Farming practices have historical, social, cultural, and environmental dimensions, which are in turn embedded in a complex macroeconomic milieu of international trade agreements, country specific land tenure arrangements, minimum support price mechanisms, subsidies, and inadequate access to credit.

The ‘Frame’ Step puts the behavior in behavior change by focusing efforts on the behaviors and audiences that will have the most meaningful impact on our goal, the adoption of climate-smart agriculture methods among farmers
There are many ways of understanding farmers’ motivations and barriers to behavior change.

What is the problem?

‘Climate-smart agriculture’ approaches have demonstrated great success in contributing to agricultural development while simultaneously addressing climate-induced risks, especially through integration into farmer extension services.

However, most farmers still prefer to stick to what they know. Without access to reliable and contextualized information on climate to inform decision making, adoption of new [to farmers] practices is low,

Who is contributing i.e., the actors and institutions?

Smallholder farmers, Non-profits, Farmer associations and cooperatives , Local governments, Input providers (Agribusinesses, Extensionists)

What are the actors doing or not doing i.e., behaviors contributing to the problem?

Farmers are not adopting climate-smart practices despite growing risk to livelihoods from climate variability

What do we want actors to do i.e., the target behavior?

A suite of climate-smart practices which will strengthen farmers’ adaptive capacities

These are the six levers of behavior change. Each lever represents a category of intervention strategies based on evidence-based principles from behavioral and social science. The levers are discrete and able to be “pulled” individually, or in different combinations for different effects, to craft solutions to behavioral challenges.
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Understanding farmers’ motivations and barriers

This exercise is about discovery. Each question has a matching answer on your right. Drag and match phrases in green boxes with the right question. A question can have more than one right answer.

What are farmers’ values/goals/concerns/interests?
Which emotions are related to the target behavior ‘Record, Monitor, Cultivate Smartly’?
Who are farmers' role models? Which social groups or identities are important to them?
With whom do farmers interact for this behavior?
How is the farmer’s decision to adopt this behavior affected by cost, convenience, and/or knowledge of soil management practices?
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Many challenges intrinsic to agricultural production today are behavioral. Some are more salient in developing contexts, but taken together, they point to the heart of the matter: agricultural challenges are also behavioral challenges.

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What do we know about life on land today?

Click on any box to identify the behavioral insight behind common trends in smallholder farmer behavior.

Smallholder farmers in developing contexts are less likely to adopt technologies and inputs they haven’t yet encountered or seen peer farmers use successfully.

This is Uncertainty Aversion

The already-precarious nature of agrarian livelihoods make farmers especially averse to more uncertainty in the form of untested (for them) innovations.

Farmers postpone investing into climate-smart innovations as a present-day savings measure.

This is Hyperbolic Discounting

The longitudinal effects of climate change on soil and groundwater are understood but farmers discount the (slow) future cost of climate variability on smallholder agriculture.

The possibility of new practices or inputs failing is experienced more keenly than their potential to succeed.

This is Loss Aversion

This possibility of loss shapes farmer decision making to a greater extent than the (equal) possibility of gain and improvement in life conditions.

Farmers are reluctant to experiment with new methods, or change their existing ways of doing things, even with the provision of subsidies.

This is Status Quo Bias

Farmers prefer to stick to what they know. Keeping things the same promises stability in a world that is made deeply unstable by a changing climate, fluctuations in crop prices, and now, a global pandemic.

Farmers selectively turn to instances of failure to justify their rejection of climate smart practices such as calibration of inputs, composting, use of climate information or reduced water use.

This is Confirmation Bias

A tendency to focus on, emphasize, and recall information that confirms prior convictions, and to downplay or ignore information that challenges them.

How farmers’ peers are practising agriculture shapes the choices and preferences of the farming community writ large.

This is Conformity Bias

Predominant social norms push the adoption of practices because humans tend to take cues from the social groups to which they belong for attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.

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If we change...

Understanding farmers’ motivations and barriers brings us to the task of building hypotheses. Let us examine our data collected during the ‘Empathize’ step, but this time with a behavioral lens. Which elements, if changed, might take farmers closer to adopting climate smart agriculture practices such as recording and monitoring use of inputs?

Want a refresher on the behavioral levers?
Behavioral Lever
Behavioral Insights
Material Incentives
Social Influences
Rules and Regulations
Emotional Appeals
Choice Architecture
Potential Behavioral Strategies
Behavioral Insights
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This is a good moment to identify the relationship between program activities and the final outcomes we seek.

This is where you are now, strategizing about possible interventions.

Programs Activities.

Shift in psychological or social changes result from program activities...

Psycho-Social States


...will generate behavioral outcomes

Target Behaviors will consolidate over time to create

Enviromental and Social Outcomes

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If we change [ the way engaging in the desired behavior(s) is observable ], we can create [ motivation to replicate ] which in turn will [ promote the adoption of climate smart agriculture practices. ].

Making others engaged in target behavior(s) observable to all is a key behavioral principle because it reinforces the action(s) as prevalent and popular among our peers.

Learn more about how to build a psycho-social theory of change.

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Solutions from around the world

Participatory Climate Action in Cauca, Colombia

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) focuses on generating evidence-based knowledge to scale climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices by designing context-specific, gender-sensitive, and socially inclusive solutions.Climate-Smart Villages (CSV) in Colombia’s Cauca department is part of a global CSV network spanning five regions, where resident farmers test, evaluate, and adopt a suite of CSA options.

Cauca supports livestock, cash crops such as coffee and sugarcane as well as staples of cassava, plantains and beans. In recent years, farmers have reported a greater frequency of extreme climatic events. They note that “the climate is crazy'', and that it is harder to know when it is going to rain or when there will be a drought. The threat of lost crops and economic losses put household food security at perpetual risk.

Since 2015, CCAFS and local partner Ecohabitats Foundation have been working with Cauca’s rural communities to co-develop solutions that improve farm productivity, strengthen their capacities to face the challenges imposed by a changing climate, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture practices.

The Cauca CSV is a participatory experiment in how different actors in a delimited area can test, adopt and evaluate CSA practices. Cauca’s portfolio (recording and monitoring of inputs; biofortified seeds; composting; water harvesting, and home gardening among others) was finalized through participatory decision-making via community workshops and field schools that took into consideration household size, labor availability, existing gender differences, and youth participation.

Through the implementation of the CSA portfolios, households in Cauca have understood the importance of the climate in their daily activities. Through the Climate-Smart Village initiative, farmers have been able to respond holistically to climate variability challenges and are now preparing for tomorrow's long-term challenges, those associated with climate change.

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This Step in the ‘Behavior-Centered Design’ journey is about brainstorming a range of possible ideas for solutions. You are ready to move to the next step when you have a prioritized list of solutions related to the target behavior (s) i.e., record, monitor, and cultivate smartly.

Next, you can develop a prototype (small-scale version) that captures your solution’s essential features without investing too much time or resources. You are ready to move to the next step when you have a prototype with the essential features of your chosen intervention.

Test your prototype and gain feedback on the solution from your target audience. It’s important to validate or invalidate your hypotheses about what motivates behavior and gain feedback to improve your solution.You might have to gain more insights and test your solution more than once before launching the solution at scale.

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Launch your solution and see how it performs in the real world at scale!

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The results are in! It is now time to measure the impact of your solution and monitor changes in the rate of behavior adoption over time.

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Behavior change is not quick. Social transformation in real time is messy. Let us take the case of Cauca’s Climate Smart Villages in southwest Colombia. How are climate-smart agriculture practices faring amongst Cauca’s sugarcane and coffee farmers now? This data is drawn from a community monitoring sample collected in 2018 for the previous year.


Number of farmers trained in climate-smart agriculture practices, with farms averaging between 1 and 2 hectares in size.


Percentage of households who continue to implement CSA practices learned from the CCAFS-Ecohabitats


Percentage of adopter-households who now have their own climate-adaptable vegetable garden, ensuring food security during bad harvests


Number of training events and farm visits organized in Cauca. Observing fellow farmers’ success strongly motivated others to adopt CSA practices. One farmer said, “When we saw farmers like us, who had a lot of food, tomatoes, everything, and they did not need to go out to buy them, this touched me a lot. It was a shame having a piece of land we were not taking advantage of.”

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There is no one solution to the challenge of promoting climate-smart agriculture practices. Existing motivations and barriers in specific contexts come together to shape how climate stewardship can be encouraged among smallholder farming communities.
To go on another 'Behavior-Centered Design' journey, choose any of the following behavioral challenges.