This research shows that exposing farmers to information about the social and economic consequences of bush burning, a common farming practice with adverse environmental effects, generates positive behavioral changes. I do this by comparing an information intervention that clearly illustrates how bush burning has a social and economic implication on the farmers and their surrounding environment. It is designed to emphasize these adverse consequences. In the short term, both interventions positively affect the probability of lowering such actions in the coming planting season. The information exposure also increases the farmers’ willingness to pay some token, assuming the government decides on a programme to help clear weed trash from the farmland. Gains are mostly seen for farmers exposed to the economic consequences of bush burning and those less religious. Other mechanisms include the ability of the information to shift farmers’ views about the underlying cause of climate change – human activities, and altering farmers’ perceived utility and value from their current or future behavioral choice, particularly being that bush burning could directly or indirectly have significant social and economic consequences.
Small farmers produce approximately 70% of food consumed worldwide. Despite their centrality in global food chains, smallholders are more subject to unsustainable famine practices, more vulnerable to climate change impacts, and possess fewer resources to adapt. One farming practice by smallholders in Nigeria is bush burning. Nigeria’s annual deforestation rate ranges between 0.72 and 2.38percent, with bush fires contributing to this trend (FAO, 2022). Bush burning significantly contribute to the greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations (in the form of Carbon Dioxide), with the potential to remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years (EPA, 2021). Further, agricultural open burning is responsible for more than a third of all black carbon emissions, the single largest source of black carbon, contributing to air pollution, climate change, and increased melting in the cryosphere (UNEP, 2021). Such burning implies warmer earth, higher weather vulnerability, and changing climatic conditions, with attendant social and economic consequences, including causing air pollution-related illnesses and deaths.
The consequences of the changing climate vary by gender: women are often more vulnerable to climate change and weather variability, unlike men (Arora-Jonsson, 2011; Akampumuza and Matsuda, 2016; Asfaw and Maggio, 2018). Such disparity in effect may be due to diverse reasons, including the patriarchal setup in developing countries, driving inequalities in women’s access to tools for coping with climate change (Asfaw and Maggio, 2018). Therefore, if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their land and adopt sustainable practices for climate change mitigation.
The target populations for this study are smallholder farmers in Nigeria. Those individuals whose main economic activities are in the agricultural sector, owning less than 5 hectares of farmland. For inclusion in this experiment, the smallholders’ farmland must be less than 5 hectares, the respondent from the farmland must be the primary decision maker for the activities on the farmland, the farmland significantly engages in rainfed irrigation 4 , and the respondent must be an adult of 18 years and above. Therefore, the randomization for this study is at the individual/farmer’s level.
This study’s focus is an informational intervention that exposes the treatment to information about the social and economic cost of climate change caused by activities, including bush burning. The study’s control group is randomly selected to include those smallholders who did not receive any of the treatment information subsequently described. The treatment groups are divided into three arms.
- T1: randomly selected smallholders exposed to more socially charged information about the consequences of bush burning/field flaming. This group is exposed to information about the social consequences of the carbon emitted from bush burning activities. That is, the carbon emitted from bush burning activities are stored in the atmosphere for a long period and causes extreme climate events that affect human health (through respiratory and cardiovascular disease), food insecurity (through weather variability), biodiversity loss (including loss of species of mammals, amphibians, birds, marine fish, and reptiles), and bush fire that spreads can affect the wellbeing of neighbouring communities or farmlands.
- T2: randomly selected smallholders exposed to more economically charged information, highlighting the consequences of carbon emission from bush burning on farmland yield. This group is exposed to climate change information primed with the economic cost of carbon emission from the bush burning activities, as follows: the heat from bush fire destroys the organic matter for soil fertility and carbon emitted from bush burning are stored in the atmosphere for a long period, causing extreme climate events. These two issues from bush burning will eventually cause a decline in farm yield, an increase in pest and disease outbreak that destroys crops and farm productivity, and the potential to affect household agricultural income adversely.
- T3: combines both the information about the social and economic effect, as follows: Carbon emission from bush burning activities are stored in the atmosphere for a long period and causes extreme events that adversely affect respiration, causes cardiovascular disease, food insecurity, and biodiversity loss. Bush fire can also affect the well-being of neighbouring communities or farmlands. The heat from the fire destroys the organic matter for soil fertility, and carbon emitted from bush burning are stored in the atmosphere for a long period, causing weather variability. The eventual effect is decreased farm yields and increased pests and disease that destroys crops and farm productivity, potentially affecting agricultural income adversely.
- H1: Exposing smallholders to climate change information charged with the social cost of bush burning will significantly influence attitudes towards bush burning and support for contingent policies towards weeding activities in the farming cycle.
- H2: Economic charged information about the consequences of climate change from bush burning will significantly influence attitudes towards bush burning and support for contingent policies towards weeding activities in the farming cycle.
- H3: The estimated effect on attitudes towards bush burning and support for contingent policies towards weeding activities in the farming cycle will be higher with exposure to combined information about the social and economic consequences of climate change from bush burning.
- H4: The effects of exposure to social, economic, or both information about the consequences of bush burning on climate change may vary depending on subjects’ gender.
- Treatment lowers the self-report likelihood of engaging in bush burning in the next planting season and willingness to pay for government service to assist in disposing of weed waste.
- Unlike exposure to information about the social consequences of bush burning, exposure to the economic consequence has a positive and significant effect on the likelihood to pledge and sign to stop bush burning and the willingness to pay for government service to assist in disposing of weed waste.