Behavioural aspects in the transition to low-pesticide agriculture

Increasing societal pressure due to e.g. the ongoing biodiversity loss has led the European agricultural sector to embark on a transition process towards low-pesticide agriculture. In Switzerland, popular initiatives that increasingly stimulate policy and the subsidy system form the backdrop to this. Part of the subsidy system are a number of agri-environmental schemes that address the reduction of pesticide use, but they have not yet succeeded in inducing a more fundamental transition. Moreover, studies on farmers’ behaviour change in this respect usually focus on their (rational) decision-making but neglect the more unconscious, routinized components of farmer behaviour.

In my dissertation project, I conceptualise farmers’ crop protection within a social practice theory perspective. In doing so, practices instead of actors become the principal units of analysis. As a starting point, I aim to capture the routinized components in Swiss farmers’ crop protection practices, as well as their underlying dynamics and changes, through semi-structured interviews and short-term field visits conducted in three agri-environmental projects. Further methodologies applied include quantitative survey research and systematic literature reviews. The overarching goal of the thesis is to contribute to a better understanding of what drives and hinders sustainability transitions in agriculture. 

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Paul Burger 


Antonia Kaiser is a PhD student with the University of Basel's Sustainability Research Group and works at Agroscope, the Swiss federal research institute for agriculture.

In 2019, she completed her Master's degree in Sustainability Economics and Management at the University of Oldenburg (Germany), where she had worked as a student research assistant in a project investigating the conditions of and challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Tanzania. In 2014/2015, Antonia studied a semester abroad at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia and did an internship with the NGO TATU Project in Tanzania, for which she also served as a volunteer board member from 2015 to 2018.

In her master thesis, she investigated the transformative potential of cooperative building and housing projects in Switzerland.

Starting her PhD in social science sustainability research, Antonia has since moved on to empirically study farmer behaviour in the context of a transition to low-pesticide agriculture.


Antonia Kaiser, MA
PhD student (Sustainability Research)