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Eco-friendly farmers do what they say

Farmers who commit to environmentally friendly working methods also actively practise nature conservation in their farming - particularly when this is not financed by the government. These are the findings of research carried out by Anne Marike Lokhorst, who will receive her PhD on 17 September based on this study.

Nature conservation

Governments can stimulate citizens to behave in an environmentally friendly way by having them make public promises. It has already been demonstrated that this encourages people to engage in recycling, use less energy and reduce the amount of time they use their cars.  Psychologist Anne Marike Lokhorst discovered that farmers who commit to agrarian nature conservation actually engage more in nature conservation on their farms, particularly in areas where there is no government financing.


Lokhorst carried out an experiment with farmers, who were divided into three groups: one group was only given feedback about their present nature conservation activities, one group was also asked to commit to nature conservation, and a control group received no feedback and was not asked to make any commitments. The combination of feedback and commitment proved to be particularlay effective for improving nature conservation. The effects of the intervention were greater for non-subsidised than for subsidised nature conservation.   


Many environmental problems are essentially social dilemmas, where individual interests clash with the interests of the group.  In the case of agrarian nature conservation, farmers bear the costs, while the benefits, in particular improvements in the natural environment, are for everyone.  A way of resolving such a dilemma is to work with commitments, according to Lokhorst's hypothesis.  Her research has shown that people are prepared to invest in commitments if they naturally trust other people and if they at the same time expect that other people are unlikely to contribute to the public good in the particular dilemma in which farmers find themselves.  For people who by nature have little trust in others, the opposite is true: they are prepared to invest in making commitments if they expect that, in the dilemma in which they are concerned, other people are likely to make major contributions to the public good.    


According to Lokhorst, there are indications that making a commitment can have an effect on self-image.  Normative considerations also probably play an important role. If your personal or social ethics prescribe that you should keep your promise, then you do so, either because others consider it important or out of personal conviction. 

Lokhorst carried out her PHD research in the framework of the research programme on: Does knowledge of environmental performance change farmers' behaviour? financed by the NWO GaMON  (GaMON = Humanities research, the Environment and Nature). 

PhD defence: Thursday 17 September 
Anne Marike Lokhorst, Using commitment to improve environmental quality
Supervisors:  Professor E. van Dijk and Professor G.R. de Snoo 

(15 September 2009)

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