But despite his youth, Babubhai was recognized
as an expert farmer in his community. Even the
eldest farmers with decades of experience would
come to him to consult about agricultural issues.
He was a voracious learner and had an experimental nature, always looking to try out new
techniques to improve his productivity. He was
also a renowned inventor; on our field visit he
showed off his latest, a wooden contraption on
which he hung a lightbulb and natural materials
that attract and then trap a pest that was common in the area. Babubhai told us that he wished
to share the device with all of the farmers of
Gujarat, so they could reap its benefits.
It was thus no surprise that Avaaj Otalo immediately appealed to Babubhai; he became one of
its biggest proponents during our design process.
He was eager to get access to an on-demand
information system where he could share his
experiences with other farmers.
But I quickly learned that not all farmers saw
it the same way. In fact, it was a member of my
own family who taught me that lesson.
Photograph courtesy of CIMM Y T
Running a research project in Gujarat, I have
the unique benefit of working in a place where
I have family—many of my uncles and cousins
are farmers. Shortly after we had deployed Avaaj
Otalo, I showed it to my uncle Kishore Patel,
whose family has been farming cotton and sug-arcane for generations. When I explained Avaaj
Otalo to him and had him listen to some of the
questions and answers that were on the message board, he tried to suppress his laughter.
“This is not new information; I already get all
the information I need from TV,” he said. Some
of his farmer friends mocked the system, saying
that it was useless to them because they already
know what to do—it’s the same thing they did
the season before and the season before that.
What’s the use of new information? To my uncle
and his friends, farming was a business activity,
not a craft. They bought the same seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides every year, applied them the
same way, harvested and sold to the same buyers. They saw changing their farming practice as
a headache, not as a need.
Through these and other encounters I got a
sense for the spectrum of Gujarat farmers, in
terms of motivations, willingness to change,
and openness to new ideas. On one end, there is
Babubhai, a lead user: a progressive early-adopter,