The rural mobile economy is prepaid.

With Radheshyam Meena, Farmer in January 2009

I began the New Year of 2009 in the midst of prototyping my fieldwork protocol for the Prepaid Economy project which had just won one of 9 Small Grants offered in competition by the iBoP Asia Project in The Philippines. India’s familiarity was the reason for its choice of testing location before doing it once only in the rice growing region of Iloilo. Since then I’ve barely managed to scratch the surface of understanding the nuanced depth and layers of the hyperlocal, trusted social network based rural economies of the developing world.

Yet the GSMA Mobile Economy 2013 report offers some pointers towards attempting to estimate the size and scale of the rural informal economy which is primarily based on agriculture and agribusinesses of all shapes and sizes. Even if an actor isn’t directly dependent on farm based income and seasonal harvest yield volatility, he or she is inextricably linked to the farm’s seasons in their own cash flow simply due to the undue proportion of the local population involved.

Until now, I’d only taken “the farmer” as a representative profile in my fieldwork, perhaps at most distinguishing between cash crop farmers who are emerging into the middle classes increasingly visible globally through their consumer behaviour and the subsistence or below level who barely manage to survive, much less make a living.

Now we’ll take a closer look at “the farmer” label itself, segmenting it further as all farms do not yield the same income nor each does each crop offer an ROI.

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