“Farmers are also scientists” is a refrain at agricultural research institutions. Yet the innovative and predictive aspects of research carried out by agricultural scientists both draw upon and differ from prediction and innovation practiced in the context of farmers’ livelihoods.
While the farmers’ problems are often the starting-point of scientists working in the experimental vein, their solutions are presented in two modes—as research findings published in peer-reviewed journals and as practical, predictive, and prescriptive advice to farmers disseminated by the research institution. Success in the professional scientific realm is based on the former axis, though scientists also try to fathom reasons for on-farm results in the region of their study. A part of my attempt is to present the views of scientists on the trajectory of their innovations—on which ones did well on the farm and why—which may not have been the subject of their academic attention.
When the innovations of formal agricultural research are put into practice, outcomes vary from the expected to the unanticipated. Often, strategies that work well in experimental settings become entangled in the local culture of governance and site-specific ecological and economic environments that characterize the dryland zone. The predictions put forth by scientists and intermediated through farmers’ science centers connect, partly connect, or disconnect with the life-world of villagers, alerting us to the spaces of possibility and critique afforded by micro-contexts. On the ground, indigenous technical knowledge and agricultural science are hybridized or maintained piecemeal. Agricultural (and livelihood) possibilities are reworked at the scale of the farm, rendering the practices of innovating and predicting processual, diverse, multiple, and hybrid.
The material for this study is drawn largely from the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), located in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and supplemented by interviews with residents, NGOs, and farmers.