Conversion to Organic Farming: A Typical Example of the Diffusion of an Innovation?

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Abstract

This paper reviews a large number of studies of organic farmers carried out in several countries over a period of about twenty years, and critically assesses whether or not the results appear to fit the framework of the adoption/diffusion model. After a summary of the adoption/diffusion model and a short description of organic farming and its development in Europe, the personal and social characteristics of early adopters of other innovations are compared with the conversion process to organic farming. Most of the studies reviewed, particularly the earlier ones, were carried out at a time when the organic sector was small and the diffusion of organic farming was at the so-called innovation stage. The first organic farmers showed similar characteristics to innovators of other environmental innovations and faced problems that were typically associated with this stage, such as opposition in the farming community and social isolation. Several similarities between the studied organic farmers and early adopters of other innovations were identified and the overall conclusion appears therefore justified that the model can be used to gain some further understanding of the diffusion processes of organic farming and the individual adoption or conversion decision.

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