Barter economy: rural farming community, India

By | January 19, 2009
Raawal Village, Rajasthan, India, January 4th 2009

tiny shop (with a little more stuff inside) is one of a dozen or so
little shops in this village of 3000 people, mostly farmers. Narsi
Meena, the shopkeeper is the only one for whom this is his sole source
of income. You see, my local guide told me, he was stricken by polio as
a child and so cannot go to the fields, he must sit here and earn his
bread somehow. As you can imagine, in a closely knit community like
this, where the majority are subsistence farmers and the rest either
working in a variety of jobs in the nearby town or artisans serving the
local community like the carpenter, he is the most popular shopkeeper.


He sells beedis, betel nut and tobacco, boiled sweets and candy,
some necessities like sugar or tea leaves. He accepts cash money as
well as whole wheat grain which he weighs on his scale right there in
front of his shop just like a cash register. Regardless of the daily
fluctuation in wheat price at the mandi, he has fixed his exchange rate
at Rs 7 to the kilo. So that packet of beedis can go for half a kilo or
thereabouts. By the end of the month he has about two or three sacks of
wheat for the buyer to convert into cash. Sometimes when he needs to
top up his shop's inventory he needs cash and the buyer may not be
buying wheat that day so he'll say, listen, give me Rs 500 against the
next sack of wheat you buy from me. And takes the cash to the town for

There's another shop in the village, a proper grocery store with
everything you could possibly need including dry fruits, but he
discourages wheat based transactions and prefers cash. But, adds my guide, he charges a rupee a kilo less for sugar.

The carpenter/woodworking artisan
(he made this door) actually works on retainer. He has no land of his
own and woodwork is all he does. Farmers know they need a variety of
woodwork throughout the year, so about 30 or 40 of them decide to
retain the carpenter for the year and promise him 50 or whatever
negotiated number of sacks of wheat at harvest time. They supply the
materials, this is only for his time and effort i.e. workmanship. 

Now I wonder how many sacks of wheat it takes to buy that 4 goat Nokia?

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