The impact of information on returns from farming.
Using data from a nationally representative survey, conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) of the Government of India, we examine farm households' access to and use of information, and its effects on farm income. Approximately 40% of the farm households in India have access to information on fertilizer application, crop varieties, pest management, marketing, etc. However, only 75% of those who access information use it in their farming decisions. The distribution of users of information by its source indicates that the government information sources including public extension workers, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (agriculture science centres), farm demonstrations, farmers' trainings and study tours organized by the government agencies, comprise a source of information for only 14% of the farm households. Farmers meet most of their information needs from other sources, including mass media, private sources and social networks. The social networks (progressive farmers, primary cooperative societies and village fairs) are utilized by 29% of the farm households, with progressive farmers being a prominent source. About 23% of the farm households depend on private sources, mainly on input dealers, for their information needs. Mass media sources, such as radio, television and newspaper are utilized by one-third of the farm households. A number of socio-economic characteristics differentiate users of information from its non-users. The users of information have relatively larger landholdings, higher endowment of labour and greater access to institutional credit. They are also more educated and better informed about the government policies. Further, the information use also differs by farm size and social status. About 41% of the large farmers (>4 ha) use information compared to 20% of the sub-marginal farmers (<0.5 ha). About 35% of the upper caste households use information as against 23% and 20% of the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe households, respectively. Further, smaller farmers and those at the bottom of social hierarchy (scheduled castes and scheduled tribes) use fewer information sources. Also, they are more dependent on informal information sources, i.e., social networks and private sources. Larger farmers and those from upper castes use information from multiple sources, relatively more from mass media. These indicate toward a potential bias in access to information, which probably could be due to differences in observable (farm size, caste, age, education, etc.) and unobservable (skill, attitude towards risk, etc.) characteristics of the farm households that may simultaneously influence returns from farming. The analysis of net income from cultivation by farm size and number of information sources used indicates that users of information (except sub-marginal farmers) realize significantly higher income per unit of land, and it increases with intensity of information use, i.e., number of sources used. After controlling for the potential selection biases, the study finds that users of information realize 12% more income than the non-users. The impact is bigger in diversified cropping systems (cash crops along with foodgrains). The income effect of information sources also differs; the formal information sources, though their outreach is smaller, have a larger impact on farm income - almost twice of that of the informal sources possibly due to qualitative differences in information content and its delivery systems. These findings are crucial for informed policy decisions regarding development of information delivery system. The agricultural extension policy should aim at developing information dissemination systems that are cost-effective, efficient in delivery and motivate farmers for a greater uptake of information on modern technologies and other practices irrespective of farm size and social status.