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Mapping Knowledge: GIS as a Tool for Spatial Modeling of Patterns of Warangal Cotton Seed Popularity and Farmer Decision-Making


In the Warangal district of Telangana, India, poor farmer knowledge, rapid seed turnover, and farmer conformist bias have resulted in faddish spikes in GM cotton seed popularity. We analyze space as a variable in 2715 seed choices by 136 farmers in two villages between 2004 and 2014, allowing us to model a decade of changes in farmers’ social learning across the village landscape. GIS analysis in combination with ethnographic research reveals shifting loci of seed certainty, in which different farmers were deemed worthy of emulation in different years. Over the study period, Warangal farmers were far more likely to emulate field neighbors’ cotton choices than they were to replant seeds, regardless of their crop yields. Rapid seed turnover and seed choice conformity was strongest among the comparatively poorer Scheduled Tribe farmers who live on the outskirts of the town proper. When the same farmers plant rice, their choices are more consistent through time and across space, suggesting that farmers learn about these two crops in very different ways.

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We would like to thank Mollie Webb, Cindy Traub, and Jennifer Moore for the useful comments they have provided on this paper; Ram Mohan and Vandita Rao for their logistical help in Telangana; and N. Ranjith Kumar, Arun Vainala Kumar, and Golusula Rani for their assistance in collecting these data. We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers who provided comments that that improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andrew Flachs.

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This project received IRB approval from Washington University in St. Louis, all interlocutors gave informed consent to participate in the study, and this project was conducted in coordination with the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad, Telangana and the Rural Development Foundation.


This research was supported by the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, the National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant 9304–13, the John Templeton Foundation (Glenn Davis Stone PI), and Washington University in St. Louis.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Flachs, A., Stone, G.D. & Shaffer, C. Mapping Knowledge: GIS as a Tool for Spatial Modeling of Patterns of Warangal Cotton Seed Popularity and Farmer Decision-Making. Hum Ecol 45, 143–159 (2017).

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  • Genetically modified crops
  • GIS
  • South India
  • Social learning
  • Farmer decision-making