Indexing soil conservation farmer perceptions of agroforestry benefits
Soil erosion poses economic and environmental concerns in many tropical uplands. Agroforestry has been proposed as a sustainable land use that can mitigate soil erosion and promote the economic welfare of small farmers. To evaluate such claims, we must (a) develop a composite measure of effectiveness, such as a soil conservation index, and (b) define it in terms understood by the farmers who ultimately choose to adopt and implement agroforestry. We construct an empirical soil conservation index as a weighted average of farmer perceptions of four soil attributes and develop a statistical model of soil conservation benefits of agroforestry by using survey data from the Philippines. Accounting for self-selection bias, we evaluate the soil conservation benefits by testing the correlation between the index and the level of agroforestry adoption. Our estimated model shows that agroforestry can generate 15-20 percent soil conservation for the typical small farmer. We offer several methodological, practical, and policy insights. Because many farmers in developing countries face informational and capital constraints, our study suggests that public policies should support small-holder agroforestry, a type of “natural investment” in soil capital, to generate private and public benefits.