Carole Vuillot · Nadège Coron · François Calatayud · Clélia Sirami · Raphael Mathevet · Annick Gibon
The efficiency of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy in mitigating the negative effects of agricultural intensification on the landscape and biodiversity is increasingly being questioned. Enhancing a reciprocal understanding of various stakeholders' mental models of agro-social-ecosystems has been proposed to trigger changes in both policy design and farmers' behaviors. However, the relationship between farmers' mental models and practices is rarely considered. Here, we explore the relationship between farmers' individual mental models (IMMs) of the agricultural landscape and their land management practices. To do so, we developed a theoretical and methodological framework grounded in cognitive psychology and farming system research for eliciting and comparing IMMs and land management practices. We applied this framework in the Coteaux de Gascogne territory, a hilly crop-livestock region in southern France. We identified groups of farmers according to their cropland and semi-natural habitat management practices. The results of our quantitative and qualitative comparisons of mental models between farmer groups showed that the way of farming partly relates to farmers' ways of thinking about the landscape and highlighted the heterogeneity of IMMs between and within farmer groups. We found evidence that path-dependent factors that constrain farmers' practices can modify their mental models, e.g., the role of agricultural machinery. Our study illustrates how an interdisciplinary framework coupling mental models and farming systems approaches provides an opportunity to enhance our understanding of the relationships between farmers' world views and their practices. Moreover, our results challenge current ways of thinking and designing biodiversity conservation policies in farmed landscapes.

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