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.

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