International Choice Modelling Conference, International Choice Modelling Conference 2013

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Citizen Preferences for Multifunctional Agriculture in the Watershed Areas of Northern Thailand: A Latent Class Choice Model
Chapika Sangkapitux

Last modified:  7 July 2013



Highland agriculture in the watershed areas of Northern Thailand has focused to date on the mono-functional role of producing food (mainly fruit and vegetables) to serve domestic and export demand. Intensive farming practices associated with high agrochemical usage has shown adverse on- and off-site effects in various forms, such as soil and water degradation, loss of agro-biodiversity, and chemical residues in water and agricultural products.

Multifunctional agriculture has been widely discussed as an alternative to reverse such negative effects of conventional, mono-functional farming in many countries. Agricultural multifunctionality conceptually refers to the environmental, ethical and social dimensions of farming and production technology. The underlying principle is that farming should not only produce marketable goods, but also environmental services, such as landscape conservation, and sustainable rural communities as public nonmarketable goods and services to the society. Recognizing and estimating citizens’ demand for such functions is crucial for an optimal agricultural policy design from a societal perspective.

This study aims at determining Thai society’s demand for agri-environmental goods and services offered by a multifunctional agricultural system. The Latent Class Choice Model (LCCM) is used to assess citizens’ willingness to pay for various attributes of multifunctional outputs. The heterogeneity of citizens’ preferences across socioeconomic characteristics, as well as environmental attitudes and knowledge is captured through the Latent Class model. Survey data is obtained from structured interviews with 385 respondents residing in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Each respondent faced seven choices with three policy options: one option for maintaining the status quo and two for policy changes. Policy attributes derived from the concept of agricultural multifunctionality include agri-environmental practices (Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and organic farming), agro-biodiversity conservation, community/village cooperative and fair trade system for marketing, and agro-ecotourism.

The result of the Choice Model suggests that there is a strong preference and willingness to pay among Thai citizens for changes toward multifunctional agriculture practices in the northern Thai watershed areas. Among the attributes of agri-environmental practices, organic agriculture in combination with agro-biodiversity conservation has gained the highest willingness to pay, followed by organic farming as a single practice and Good Agricultural Practice combined with agro-biodiversity conservation. The findings also show that Thai citizens still prefer a community/village cooperative system for marketing to the internationally known system of “Fair trade”. The attribute “Cultural and landscape conservation” of multifunctional highland farming, represented by the promotion of “Agro-ecotourism” is also well accepted by Thai citizens. Factors like family income, family with children, and having an environment-conscious attitude and being environmentally literate contribute positively to supporting the changes toward agricultural multifunctionality in the watershed areas of northern Thailand.

Taking preference heterogeneity into account, results obtained from three latent class models suggest changes in patterns of citizens’ preference as compared to those derived from the conventional model. Environment-conscious attitude and environmental literacy play significant roles when associated with class membership. The group with high environmental concerns supported organic and agro-biodiversity attributes, while the group with moderate environmental concerns revealed its support for all attributes of multifunctional agriculture with the exception of fair trade. By contrast, the utility of the third group with low environmental literacy and consciousness was not at all determined by the multifunctional outputs. In conclusion, the results obtained from the choice model provide a positive signal of Thai citizens’ support for agricultural multifunctionality with the majority of respondents supporting organic farming combined with biodiversity conservation and ethical marketing through domestic producer groups including agro-ecotourism activities. Finally, enhancing environmental literacy and consciousness emerged as a key determinant in gaining citizens’ support for multifunctional agriculture.