Exploring the factors influencing farmers' water conservation intentions under the water rights transfer policy is crucial for developing equitable water rights systems and safeguarding farmers' interests. Leveraging data from 608 respondents in the Yellow Irrigation District of Inner Mongolia, China, integrating the theory of planned behavior and the theory of perceived value, we present an analytical framework to investigate the factors affecting farmers' water conservation intention through structural equation modeling. Our findings reveal the following: firstly, farmers' water conservation intentions are predominantly influenced by subjective norms, behavioral attitudes, perceived behavioral control, perceived benefits (PB), and perceived risks (PR); secondly, perceived behavioral control exerts the most significant impact on farmers' water conservation intention, whereas subjective norms have the weakest influence. This implies that farmers’ water conservation intention is not closely related to subjective norms in the context of mandatory water-saving interventions; lastly, the paths leading to farmers' water conservation intention include ‘perceived benefits/perceived risks → behavioral intention,’ and an indirect path through ‘perceived benefits/perceived risks → behavioral attitudes → behavioral intention’. Consequently, reducing the water-saving technology complexity, harnessing the influence of neighboring communities and water user associations, and enhancing farmers' compensation are effective strategies to bolster farmers' intention to engage in water conservation.

  • Through agricultural water conservation and the transfer of water rights, governments can re-allocate the scarce water resources to industries.

  • The water rights transfer policy represents an institutional shift and involves a cognitive adjustment process for farmers on a psychological level.

  • By integrating TPB and TPV, this paper unravels the logic behind the formation of farmers’ intentions to save water.

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