A bridge too far? The influence of socio-cultural values on the adaptation responses of smallholders to a devastating pest outbreak in cocoa
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The influence of socio-cultural factors on the adaptive capacity, resilience and trade-offs in decision-making of households and communities is receiving growing scholarly attention. In many partly transformed societies, where the market economy is not well developed, livelihood practices are heavily structured by kinship and indigenous social and economic values. Farm investment decisions and incentives to produce agricultural commodities are shaped by a host of considerations in addition to market imperatives like profit. In one such partly transformed society in East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea, we examine the adaptation decisions of smallholders in response to the drastic drop of yield in their cocoa plots caused by the sudden outbreak of Cocoa Pod Borer. To explain why the impact of the pest has been so great we examine the interconnections between household responses, the local socio-cultural and economic context of smallholder commodity crop production and the wider institutional environment in which household choices and decisions are made. We argue that the significant lifestyle changes and labour intensive farming methods required for the effective control of Cocoa Pod Borer are incompatible with existing smallholder farming systems, values and livelihoods. To adopt a high input cropping system requires more than a technical fix and some training; it also requires abandoning a 'way of life' that provides status, identity and a moral order, and which is therefore highly resistant to change. The paper highlights the enduring influence and significance of local, culturally-specific beliefs and socio-economic values and their influence on how individuals and communities make adaptation decisions.
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