Now to the thorny issue of programming how people make decisions. Le’t be clear, I don’t need to program how people think i.e. conceptualise the world around them, I just need to make a sensible set of assumptions as to how farmers order their lives with respect to selecting, growing and selling crops. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to write a paragraph like e.g.
I get up around 6am most days. If it is spring or autumn we have to prepare the fields. This means long days clearing elephant grass, tilling the toil, weeding, and sometimes adding fertiliser. Our family will eat breakfast together and decide which field to go to today. If our priority is maize this year we’ll go there until everything is done. We’ll go to the other fields if we have time. After preparing the fields we plant seeds and tend to the plants as they grow (weeding, sometimes we had herbicides etc.) In a good year we get to harvest two crops. We store what we need for ourselves and try to see any surplus at the market. If we make money we can put it towards schooling for the kids and things for farming like hiring a tractor (which is expensive). In a good year we’ll prepare half a hectare for maize, and small patches for manioc and peanuts. Recently we’ve been trying to grow coffee because it fetches a good price in the market. Growing coffee is complicated though and things can go wrong. It also takes 5 years to go from planting seeds to harvesting beans.A bad year can be caused by many factors. If we get ill we can’t spend as much time in the fields. If the rains don’t come then the crops won’t do as well (too much rain can also be disastrous as it can cause rot). Wind can blow the maize over just before it ripens. Cows can get into the fields and trample the crops. In a good year we’ll grow enough for ourselves, make some money in the market, and have time to spend helping our neighbors or anyone else who is struggling (for whatever reason).In a bad year, we’ll have to dig into our savings or even ask the church or chief for help. When things get bad it is difficult to get back up again. When you’re rich you can try new things and if they pay off you get richer. If you’re out of money even a small experiment could cause havoc so we stick to what we know and hope for the best.I am worried what will happen if the rains change. We will have to experiment but if we don’t adapt soon trying out new things will feel very risky.
From this (made up) account I can pick out simple rules e.g. prepare fields in the right seasons, focus on fields for specific crops first, can’t go to fields when sick and so on. The account also highlights where a general everyday language account need to be augmented with numbers e.g. how many hours does it take to clear a hectare, what is the normal range of days a farmer will be too sick to work, what are the market prices for different crops etc.
The next step in terms of programming people is to develop behaviors farmers can adopt to manage their ecosystem services in the style Elinor Ostrom alluded to in her design principles for common pool resource institutions e.g. monitor environmental degradation, punish free-riders, collect taxes to buffer welfare in the bad times etc.