The emergence of narrational AI and open source voice assistants connects consumers to farmers in new ways. The prevalence of open source You-Learn kits and the trend towards digital jugaad amongst farmers has made hyperlocal data collection on Karnataka’s small holdings and farms commonplace, but it is the combination of this with Slow-AIs that has really helped farmers.
Vishala of the ‘Buffalo Back Collective’ was instrumental in working with developers to transform this technology into one that worked for busy farmers who wished to to tell their story to their customers– the results of these collaborations were Slow-AIs, that gradually track the growth of crops. Using data from DIY farm tools and with the ability to capture and translate local dialects, these AIs take snapshots and moments from everyday farm life and convert them into stories and insights about crops and the people who grow them.
At food markets across Karnataka, farmers now wrap their produce in on-demand printed paper bags that provide consumers with context and information about their hyperlocal purchases. These Slow-AI stories, combine farmers’ tales, recipes, and advice with data from FarmLab kits such as weather and soil quality.
In his farm, Narasimha sits under the banyan tree that borders the village. The rains have cleared and the air is cool. August is his favourite month. He can see the ragi millets pushing their way through the red soil. They are robust plants that thrive on just the regular monsoon rains. Nowadays, they are also so much tastier than they used to be when he was a child; and though these won’t be ready to harvest until October, Usha is already out on her bicycle with its attached camera-kit, photographing both the still-wet soil and him under the tree! What had she said? … “It’s how we tell our story, Appa”. In a few days, his picture will likely show up on a paper bag full of ragi somewhere in Bangalore. “Every bag will be unique” she’d said and, apparently, according to Usha, people will collect these packets and see what life – their life – on the farm looks like. Narasimha chuckles to himself – his father would have scoffed at the notion, but Usha’s idea has been working. By telling their stories, they have increased sales and are able to charge a fair price for their hard work … or, rather, Usha’s hard work. They now have regular sales across the city and even visits from city folks. Before the rains started, a group had arrived for a tour in an air-conditioned 4×4; each one clutching paper bags with pictures of Narasimha’s okra crop. They had left with boxes full of tomatoes, end-of-season-mangoes, and peas. City folk here – another thing his father would have laughed at.