Thursday, February 18, 2010

BT Brinjal: Could we have a microscope studying the behaviour of farmers?

Recent BT brinjal debate has brought forward issues related to science of brinjal production, regulatory aspects of impact of brinjal production on human health and food security, probability of development of super insect. But for the time being if we just put these lenses aside and consider - "Why will a farmer adopt a BT brinjal", then the answer to that question could be seen through certain behavioural lenses.

Contextualising the debate through that lense, in this blog, I would just focus on certain behavioural dimensions of a farmer that finally determines the procurment or non procurement decision of BT brinjal by a farmer. New technologies like BT brinjal has a risk dimension associated with it. Risk arises from uncertainties regarding the effect of use of BT brinjal on food security, health safety and uncertainties due to other negative externalities (like gene transfer, transfer of genes to other varieties grown in the same soil) arising from use of BT brinjal. On the other hand a farmer could get the benefit of using this kind of technology from an enhancement of productivity, yield and income generation as has been observed in many instances in Gujarat in case of BT cotton.

Then what guides a farmer decision of buying a BT variety of brinjal? Any farmer who is a human being is guided by fear of uncertainties that a technology poses and also by how much the risk management aspects of the technological uncertainties are in the farmer's domain of control. Larger the chance of not being able to manage such uncertainties, greater would be the probability that the farmer would be risk averse to adopt such a new technology. Parallely it also depends how visa vis the uncertainties the farmer perceives the benefits in the short, medium and long term. Before taking a decision of adopting a new technological product a farmer actually would use something called "discount factor" in his/her own jugadu way and would come up with the discounted benefits and costs during the time of adoption of the technological product. Once the benefits are higher than the costs the farmer would adopt the product.

While doing that discounting, a farmer would also consider what is the chance and time frame in which such a technology could become obsolete and the farmer would use his/her own expectation hypothesis to come up with a time frame in which a new technological product could come in. However while doing that discounting, a farmer needs to be fully aware of all kinds of information about the technology. Any assymmetry in information regarding the technology could lead to an incorrect discounting by the farmer that could thereby lead to a wrong decision of a farmer. The public authorities are therefore highly responsible to pass on that information to the farmer so that a farmer could take a sound decision at any point of time regarding adoption of a technological product like BT Brinjal. All information should be passed on to the farmer and then the farmer should be given the freedom to make a decision. In this regard, each farmer could have different set of discount factors and based on each farmer's discount factor the farmer could turn out to be risk averse, neutral or lover.

Adoption of a technological product like BT brinjal by a farmer is an outcome of a whole set of simulation process that goes in the mind of a farmer. Such a process simulates set of information regarding the risks, benefits, costs and probabilities of risk management associated with adoption of a technological good. The agents of society has to provide the authenticated scientific information to farmer so that he/she could simulate well and could apply his/her own set of expectation hypothesis regarding the costs and benefits of a technology. Discounting by the farmers also need to be done on the possible chances of a technology revision over a certain time frame.

The BT brinjal debate has really thrown forward a new stream of research vision that could be explored using the lense of behavioural tools in analysing technology adoption decisions of a farmer.

A recent paper by Judith Chevalier and Austan Goolsbee in quarterly journal of economics about the nature of forward looking behaviour of consumers could throw light in studying the nature of forward looking behaviour of farmers although the mentioned paper uses a very different set of consumers for analysing the forward looking behavioural pattern.

The point which is important is that there is a need to use a lense of behavioural tools of economics in studying the farmer behaviour pattern with regard to new technological product adoption decisions. The philosophical discourse of such a transdisciplinary lense could come from various other streams of research (even from tools of research dealing with pscychological aspects of a farmer that determines the nature of discounting) where various behavioural tools are applied to analyse new technological product adoption decisions. The days of more cross disciplinary thinking for studying new technological product adoption has arrived. Its high time we start it soon for the benefit of our farmers at the grass root and for the society at large.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

ET 604 to South South Cooperation:

ET 604 to South South Cooperation:

ET – 604, a flight of Ethiopian airlines from New Delhi to Addis Ababa criss crosses the Simien mountain mass (which is a broad kind of plateau) while landing in the Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The southern part of the mountain mass has simien escarpments that looks like the grand canyon of U.S.A. Immediately from the plane itself, I felt that the long cherished dreams that I used to have while reading the fiction story ‘Chander Pahad” by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay got partially fulfilled. Reaching in addis, felt to do some research at the end of the day’s meetings on the wildlife of Ethiopia as an action point of fulfilling the cherished dreams of school days. Certain facts came up from a travel guide book which revealed that the awash national park of Ethiopia is one of the most treasured wild life reserve of Ethiopia which is 225 km east of addis ababa. The forest reserve is bordered by awash river. The wild life also comprises of 1800 m Fantalle volcano. The bale mountain national park is also one of the important forest reserve of Ethiopia.

But to push the realization of the dream of learning about local issues, I got only one Sunday (7th February) in Addis the day when there was no meeting or any presentation that had to be given. On Sunday, I went to Mount Tato, a highland area on the outskirts of Addis. From the top of mount tato one could see the entire Addis Ababa city. The car which was driven by Bruke, an orthodox Christian stopped at downhills of Mount Tato from where we (Bruke and I) started trekking. On our way towards the top highland of Mount Tato, Bruke and I got involved in a very interesting discussion about cultural practices of an orthodox Christian. Bruke informed me that Sunday was his last day of meat eating and for the next two months he would eat vegeteranian food and would always pray about well being of people around him to practice orthodox Christianity. On our way towards the Mount Tato we got engaged in a discussion about spirituality, religion, challenges and opportunities in Africa and India. On our way towards the highland area of Mount Tato, the discussion between Bruke and myself got a halt as my attention went towards a series of chopped of trees on the road side. After a discussion with local people and bruke, I came to know these trees are being cut off and the wood of the trees are used in the booming construction activities of addis. The villagers cut off these woods and then sell each bundle of woods at 20 birr which is the only source of income for the villagers. Alternate income generation activities for these people in small scale plantation work and vegetation restoration activities in the hills could be helpful for sustainable development of the villagers of this area. This area is also facing soil erosion problem and plantation of soil binding species could help in checking soil erosion. As we walked up towards the plain land area of the Mt. Tato, Bruke showed me some trees called “Bawarzef” (as they are called in Amharic). We went to the steep slopes and plucked some leaves from the tree. Bruke suggested to squeeze and smash the leaf and then inhale the smell of the leaf. I followed Bruke’s suggestion and did that and felt that somebody has sprinkled vicks vapour in my nose. Bruke said that the local people use these leaves to cure influenza, fever, cough and cold. The gift of indigenous species of nature was felt by me immediately and realized the beauty of mother earth. The local people also taught me how from the difference in the colour patterns of the leaves one could say which leaf is a better vicks vapour, cetzene, paracetamol in comparison to the other. Finally both of us reached the top of highland zone of Mount. Tato and Bruke told me that he would like me to get into the St. Mary church that was located in the stopping point of our short trekking route. Bruke and I entered the church and he taught me the ways of praying to mother Mary and Jesus in an orthodox way. I prayed with him and felt that South South Cooperation is all about this. Bruke’s eyes were full of tears when he saw me (a Hindu by birth and Indian by nationality) worshipping with him in the church. As we came out of the church we saw a local music store with a poster of Hritick Roshan and Priyanka Chopra starring in the movie Krissh. Bruke was spontaneous to look at me and said immediately that he follows Bollywood since 80s and is a fan of Bollywood music. As a gift from an Indian, I sang two Hindi songs for him immediately and could see the appearance of goosebumps near Bruke’s neck. He was happy and emotional at the same time and was shedding tears in happiness. The South South Cooperation vision germinated immediately and while coming down from the hills, in the long range I could see the construction activities of Addis below and with me on Mount Tato there were the local people, bruke and the realities of Mount Tato. I realized the journey for South South Cooperation has just begun and there is a long way to go.