Farmers across India have long embraced Jugaad, the philosophy and practice of informal repair and mending. When extended to localised digital practices, these farmers become coders, hackers, and makers – adapting and developing low cost, context-specific,and customisable digital farming tools that can harvest both data and crops.
These tools support individualised farming practices and build on traditional knowledge. They allow the small farmer to build a competitive advantage and enhance the best aspects of their practice whilst offering a counter-narrative to embedded IoT-sensing technology, big data, and artificial intelligence that drives large-scale agribusiness.
In the landscape of mesh-enabled decentralised digital products and services, a national network of hyper-local organisations emerges to support digital farmers. FarmLab is a community-led NGO that embraces culture, tradition, creativity, intuition and time-honoured knowledge to enable farmers and farm communities to build digital tools, steward data, and distribute new technological knowledge. Every region or small town has its own autonomous FarmLab tailored to the region’s needs and coordinating between individual farms and other regional labs. Open learning and localised data stewardship ensure that no single lab or other entity can profit from extracting data from the network.
By safely connecting to a wider mesh-network of other farms, national trends in weather, seasonal climate, and economic conditions are available to the regional farmer. This is an example of big data blending with finely-honed traditional knowledge. The tools may hold the data, but the farmer wields the knowledge and power to use this data in ways that work best for them.
Narasimha leans back on his spade after digging a shallow trench to plant ragi in. Reaching for the pouch in his belt, he removes the soil sensor that his daughter, Usha, made for him three years ago. That was when they decided to switch his two hectares to non-chemical farming, or ‘organic farming’ as Usha calls it. The sensor is simply a soil spike connected to a small mesh-connected sensor board which holds a couple of indicator lights. But with Usha’s coding skills, Narasimha’s knowledge, and the data of FarmLab, this tiny sensor has become an invaluable addition to the farm. Narasimha lifts the spike from the sensor and inserts it into the freshly-turned soil, pressing a green button as he does so. This will give him a reading and tell him if his soil is finally antibiotic-free. Tell him if he has finally extracted himself from the iron grip of the agro-industry. Tell him that his plants are now his and his alone. The lights wake and start to excitedly blink and flicker. The upload is happening…