An economic analysis of soil conservation policy for selected commercial farms in KwaZulu-Natal.
Inherent in the erosion process is a high level of uncertainty. This is associated with the inability to accurately quantify and predict the consequences of prolonged erosion for agricultural production, or estimate the time period over which induced innovations will be able to compensate for it. Therefore, there are incentives to formulate strategies that will achieve tangible reductions in erosion. Data were collected through a postal survey conducted in October 1993, from the following five commercial farming regions: Dalton/Wartburg, Camperdown/Eston, Dundee, Estcourt, and Winterton. Soil conservation incentives are expected to differ according to enterprise types and site-specific circumstances, and stratifying according to these regions incorporates a diverse spectrum of agricultural systems. There were 480 potential survey respondents, and 159 (35 percent) usable questionnaires were returned. The response rate is relatively good for a postal survey, although results may be slightly biased in favour of farmers that are concerned or interested in soil conservation. Adoption of soil conservation measures is modelled as a multi-stage decision process, representing the following phases: awareness of the erosion problem, the perception that erosion is worth trying to resolve, farmers' technical and financial abilities to implement soil conservation measures required for their farms, and finally the actual adoption of conservation practices. A logistic regression analysis shows visible erosion impacts, knowledge of erosion's adverse implications for agricultural productivity, farmers' willingness to invest their own capital in conservation activities, predominantly crop farms, and sufficient financial resources, have significant positive impacts on adoption. The mean predicted probability score for the Technical Ability model is 0.54, illustrating farmers' lack of technical soil conservation skills to implement appropriate conservation measures is a major constraining factor within the adoption process. Variables influencing conservation effort, reflecting the extensiveness and effectiveness of soil conservation measures, are expected to differ from those affecting adoption, and effort is modelled separately using linear regression. Results support prior expectations indicating conservation effort depends mainly on the following financial characteristics: farmers' willingness to invest their own capital in conservation activities, debt fmancing, and on-farm financial and managerial benefits from implementing soil conservation activities. Farmers' perceptions regarding the monitoring and enforcement of soil conservation legislation are also analyzed using frequency tables. Although 65 percent of respondents believe that violations of Act 43/1983 will be discovered, only 20 percent perceive that transgressions will be both detected and subsequently prosecuted. This suggests the transactions costs related to enforcing prosecutions are high, and the possibility of being prosecuted is unlikely to encourage farmers to implement soil conservation activities. Agents (eg. Soil Conservation Committees and extension officers), and media (eg. extension service reports) play an invaluable role in promoting soil conservation. High transactions costs associated with enforcing legislation indicate it may be appropriate for the government to play an active part in research, and in providing information about erosion and soil conservation, to facilitate a better functioning land market. This is distinct from having a clear advantage over market forces in the use of this information. Cross-compliance programs, should perhaps be considered as short to medium-term strategies, to encourage farmers to implement soil conservation activities.