Twelve women stand in a row, ankle-deep in an irrigated field, submerging rice seedlings as quickly as they can. The work is meticulous. Paddy fields stretch for miles, broken up by palm trees and mango groves. Monsoons are coming soon, the farmers say. And hopes are high the rains will mean much better harvests than the droughts of the last two years.
I’m looking on from the side of a road in rural India in 100 degree heat — a senior research assistant 9,000 miles from my office at the Stanford Center for International Development — trying to find answers to seemingly intractable questions: Despite this promising expanse of newly planted fields, why are so many farmers trapped in debt? And what can be done about it?