I am usually asked this question by frustrated scientists and development workers who believe they have a profitable technology which they believe can help farmers improve their livelihoods if properly used. Often, they have spent considerable thought and effort on their technology and they are convinced it is the answer to a significant proportion of the challenges that rural agricultural folk struggle with. To the scientists’ shock, a majority of the farmers do not adopt the seemingly profitable technology once introduced in the community!
I have heard a good number of frustrated agricultural scientists and development workers conclude that farmers simply stupid for not adopting technologies that are presumed profitable within the research and scientific communities! Surely, there is nothing new of cause about development workers and scientists concluding that smallholder farmers are stupid. In fact, this conclusion prompted the famous Joseph Stiglitz to observe that “Whenever you find yourself thinking that some behavior you observe in a developing country is stupid, think again. People behave the way they do because they are rational. And if you think they are stupid, it’s because you have failed to recognize a fundamental feature of their economic environment” in The Economic Theory of Agrarian Institutions (1989). [The emphasis is mine]
This said, it should be appreciated that the gap between scientists who develop agricultural technologies and the farmers who are supposed to use the said technologies is still big. For example, CIMMYT (1993) noted that “It is a waste of resources to conduct several years of research on a technology only to discover that farmers find it unacceptable”. This just emphasizes on the importance of conducting research and developing technologies that are relevant to the farmers who are supposed to use them.
Generally, there are numerous factors that explain why farmers adopt certain technologies and literally ignore others. Sometimes farmers fail to adopt a seemingly profitable technology because they think it’s too complex for their situation, it’s too radical an innovation given their social system, or because the farmers are generally risk averse et cetera. However, there is a theory of diffusion of innovations developed by Everett M. Rogers that can help development workers and scientists understand how farmers, like all human beings, adopt innovations. Being a theory, it does not perfectly explain the behavior of farmers on technology adoption and it has its own short falls. But, it can reduce 90% of development and scientists’ frustrations by simply understanding how innovations are generally adopted.
This short file summarizes the theory in a very succinct fashion. I think anyone who at some point interacts with human beings should read this short file.