M.M. Escalada and K.L. Heong
Department of Development Communication, Visayas State University, Leyte, Philippines, and
International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines
About 12 years ago we wrote a paper on farmers’ cognitive dissonance when we presented them with new information that leaf folders need not be sprayed and if they do not use any insecticides in the first 40 days after sowing, they will save money (Heong and Escalada 1997). We invited farmers to participate in a simple experiment in their own fields. Participating farmers would divide their fields into two, one portion that will have no sprays in the first 40 days and the rest of the farm would be his or her normal practice. Participants were then provided simple recording sheets to record their inputs in the two portions, weight of the produce and then compute yields in tons per hectare. After the experiment, farmers’ insecticide use dropped from 3.2 to 2 and their attitudes towards leaf-feeding insects have also changed. Before participation, farmers believed these insects cause yield loss (87%), severe damage (77%) and had to be sprayed early in the season (62%). After participation, these were reduced to 9%, 28% and 10%, respectively. By performing the experiment to see for themselves, farmers had resolved their dissonance, changed their attitudes and practices.
Recently we found widespread cognitive dissonance among plant protection officials in agriculture departments in several Asian countries. Many of them have attended training courses in IPM, plant protection and rice production and learned concepts related to pest ecology, economic thresholds, plant compensation, the destructive nature of pesticides and insecticide resistance. A large number are IPM trainers themselves and are well aware that planthopper problems are insecticide induced and prophylactic spraying do more harm to natural biological control. The advice they should adopt for planthopper management is to thus avoid the use of insecticides detrimental to natural enemies. Many are also aware that giving out free insecticides to farmers would increase prophylactic applications and misuse and will worsen the planthopper problem.
Formulated by Leon Festinger (1957), the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance states that psychologically uncomfortable existence of dissonance motivates an individual to try to reduce it to achieve consonance. Dissonance occurs when an individual holds two or more conflicting beliefs but it can be eliminated by reducing the importance of the conflicting beliefs, acquiring new beliefs that change the balance, or removing the conflicting attitude or behavior or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. More details in http://cognitive-dissonance.behaviouralfinance.net/.
In two FGDs conducted in China and Vietnam, we found that officials seem to be in cognitive dissonance. They constantly encounter conflicts in what they know and what they were expected to perform. In pest outbreak situations, plant protection officials are expected to distribute free pesticides to farmers, which is something a person trained in IPM knows is the wrong thing to do. But yet they are expected to abide by procedure or instructions from their superiors in fear of losing their “chair” or position. They resolve their dissonance by using the “procedural rationality” (Simon 1982) instead of substantive rationality. One who follows the procedural rationality can never be wrong even though the action had made the problem worse as he or she is following procedure and is performing a task as expected by the boss. Some plant protection officials resolve their cognitive dissonance by adopting political rationality and use the opportunity to further his or her personal gains. Despite new developments in research, extension and training, pest management structures, procedures and practices in Asia had remained conceptually quite unchanged in the last 40 years. The “pre emptive strike and fire brigade” approach continues to dominate decisions at the institutional levels. Pests are “to be prevented” by striking at them in prophylactic applications and at outbreak situations, more pesticides are used to “eradicate” the pests. This approach was instituted in the 1960s and had been the backbone of the Green Revolution that had ensure food security but also brought about the “Unwelcome Harvest” (Conway and Pretty 1991) which includes pesticide misuse and pollution. Thousands of plant protection officials in Asia have been trained by international, like IRRI and FAO, and national organizations in IPM but they remain unable to practice rational pest management because adopting the procedural and political rationality strategies are safer, have better career opportunities and other benefits. What seem to be urgently needed are policy dialogues with top policy makers in national programs to change pest management structures, teachings and procedures so as to cultivate new political norms. Otherwise there is limited opportunity for new concepts, technologies, methods and IPM training programs to be implemented and have impact. The Doubly Green Revolution (Conway 1997) seems destine to repeat the mistakes of the Green Revolution unless structural changes occur.
Conway, G.R. 1997. The Doubly Green Revolution. Comstock Publishing Associates, New York.
Conway, G.R. and Pretty, J.N. 1991. Unwelcome Harvest – Agriculture and Pollution. Earthscan Publications Ltd, London.
Festinger, L. 1957. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
Heong, K.L. and Escalada, M.M. 1997. Perception change in rice pest management: A case study of farmers’ evaluation of conflict information. Journal of Applied Communications. 81, 3-17.
Simon, H.A. 1982. Models of Bounded Rationality. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA