ArticlePDF Available


In this first paper, we explain why traditional knowledge is an important theme in the study of Indian agriculture, especially given the crises routinely facing poor, smallholder farmers. We begin with an overview of some of the key authors who have written about the problems facing small farmers both within and outside India. Different authors have focused on different aspects of the benefits that can be derived from the local knowledge and skills of farmers, but these do not always pertain to organic farming. Our interest in organic farming is specifically about ‘traditional’ knowledge. With the industrialisation of agriculture in India and elsewhere, many poor, small farmers have been deskilled and placed into vulnerable positions. Traditional knowledge has been undermined, overwhelmed or has survived only in fragments. How ‘traditional knowledge’ might be retrieved, reinvented, reintroduced and modified so as to create a farmer-driven, sustainable and biodiverse agriculture is our concern. In the final section of this paper, we analyse the four situations we have been working on as examples of the possibilities and challenges facing the revival of ‘traditional knowledge’ in the villages of Kolkata, central India and Sikkim.
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
Download by: [Professor Marika Vicziany] Date: 23 August 2017, At: 08:14
South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies
ISSN: 0085-6401 (Print) 1479-0270 (Online) Journal homepage:
Food Security and Traditional Knowledge in India:
The Issues
Marika Vicziany & Jagjit Plahe
To cite this article: Marika Vicziany & Jagjit Plahe (2017) Food Security and Traditional
Knowledge in India: The Issues, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 40:3, 566-581, DOI:
To link to this article:
Published online: 20 Aug 2017.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 1
View related articles
View Crossmark data
Food Security and Traditional Knowledge in India: The Issues
Marika Vicziany
and Jagjit Plahe
Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Cauleld, Vic., Australia;
Department of Management, Monash
University, Cauleld, Vic., Australia
In this rst paper, we explain why traditional knowledge is an important
theme in the study of Indian agriculture, especially given the crises
routinely facing poor, smallholder farmers. We begin with an overview
of some of the key authors who have written about the problems facing
small farmers both within and outside India. Different authors have
focused on different aspects of the benets that can be derived from
the local knowledge and skills of farmers, but these do not always
pertain to organic farming. Our interest in organic farming is specically
about traditionalknowledge. With the industrialisation of agriculture in
India and elsewhere, many poor, small farmers have been deskilled and
placed into vulnerable positions. Traditional knowledge has been
undermined, overwhelmed or has survived only in fragments. How
traditional knowledgemight be retrieved, reinvented, reintroduced and
modied so as to create a farmer-driven, sustainable and biodiverse
agriculture is our concern. In the nal section of this paper, we analyse
the four situations we have been working on as examples of the
possibilities and challenges facing the revival of traditional knowledge
in the villages of Kolkata, central India and Sikkim.
Food security; India; organic
farming; poverty; small
farmers; sustainable
agriculture; traditional
The food security situation globally and in South Asia is dire
. According to the International
Food Policy Research Institute, in 2015, India ranked 80 out of 104 countries in terms of the
severity of hunger when measured by the Global Hunger Index.
This was worse than Sri
Lanka and Bangladesh (ranked 69 and 73, respectively), but better than Pakistan (ranked
93). Furthermore, 15 percent of Indians were undernourished, dened as chronic calorie
deciency. The impact of poverty on children under ve years was severe: 15 percent suf-
fered from wasting, 38.8 percent from stunted growth, and mortality was 5 percent.
level of deprivation means that a substantial proportion of Indias future workforce begins
life with its physical and mental health seriously compromised. For an emerging power,
lack of food security for so many Indians, especially the young, is unacceptable.
CONTACT Marika Vicziany; Jagjit Plahe
1. Alex de Waal, Armed Conict and the Challenge of Hunger: Is an End in Sight?, 2015 Global Hunger Index (Washington,
DC: The International Food Policy Research Institute, 2015), pp. 239[,accessed3June2016].
2. Ibid., p. 18, Table 2.1.
3. Ibid., p. 31, App. B.
4. See, for example, Amitabh Mattoo (ed.), The Reluctant Superpower: Understanding India and its Aspirations (Melbourne:
Melbourne University Press, 2012).
© 2017 South Asian Studies Association of Australia
VOL. 40, NO. 3, 566581
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
Conventional approaches to Indias food problems have focused on questions of pro-
duction and distribution. Under the heading of production, scholars and policy makers
have debated the relative benets of applying more inputs to agriculture such as irrigation,
genetic changes to cereals, land reform and minimum support prices as examples of what
needs to be done to increase food production and make it more balanced, efcient and
better distributed. Under the heading of food distribution, the debate has been about
national and international markets, supply chains and supermarkets, government inter-
vention in food distribution, and foreign investment in Indias retail sector.
Beyond ques-
tions of food production and distribution, there has also been a wide-ranging discussion
about the nutritional dimension of food intake.
Whatever the focus, and despite decades of debate, numerically, India today still has
the largest number of under- and malnourished people in the world, making food security
the countrys most pressing priority. In 1996, the World Food Summit dened food secu-
rity as being when all people at all times haveaccess to sufcient, safe, and nutritious
food[to maintain] a healthy and active life.
This goal remains a dim possibility for
India given the current production and distribution systems, especially the crisis faced by
smallholder farmers. This crisis, however, is a paradox because for some time now, India
has been one of the worlds largest producers of food. Total rice production in India is sec-
ond only to China, and India has been accumulating enormous food surpluses that are
stored in government facilities. In mid 2012, India had the largest food buffer ever in its
historysome 80 million tonnes, which was about two and a half times the size of the
estimated 32 million tonnes needed to insure against national catastrophe due to drought
and/or famine.
In the ten years from 1992 to 2013, Indias food stocks of rice and wheat
exceeded buffer norms in most years,
and during the last ve years, stocks have been
double what is needed.
As well, mountains of food rot in the elds owing to the lack of
proper storage facilities,
while pests destroy up to 50 percent of total grain production.
5. Marika Vicziany, It Takes Two to Tango: Industry and Foreign Direct Investment, in Pascaline Winand, Marika Vicziany
and Poonam Datar (eds), The European Union and India: Rhetoric or Meaningful Relationship? (Cheltenham, UK/North-
ampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2015), pp. 25661.
6. See, for example, Ranjan Ray and Kompal Sinha, Rangarajan Committee Report on Poverty Measurement: Another Lost
Opportunity,inEconomic & Political Weekly, Vol. XLIX, no. 32 (2014), pp. 438. Amongst other things, Ray and Sinha speak
oftheneedtotakemicronutrientdeciency seriously. Ibid., p. 45. Also see Ranjan Ray, Changes in Food Consumption and
the Implications for Food Security and Undernourishment: India in the 1990s,inDevelopment and Change, Vol. 38, no. 2
(2007), pp. 32143.
7. FAO, Policy Brief: Food Security, Issue 2 (June 2006), p. 1 [
c28ebe830f46b3.pdf, accessed 29 Oct. 2016].
8. Marika Vicziany, Why European Cows are the Envy of Poor Indian Farmers, in Pascaline Winand, Marika Vicziany and
Poonam Datar (eds), The European Union and India: Rhetoric or Meaningful Relationship? (Cheltenham, UK/Northamp-
ton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2015), p. 208.
9. Rahul Anand, Naresh Kumar and Volodymyr Tulin, Understanding Indias Food Ination: The Role of Demand and Sup-
ply Factors, IMF Working Paper WP/16/2 (2016), p. 7, Fig. 2 [
pdf, accessed 9 Nov. 2016].
10. Ibid., p. 26. 2016 is an exception because the excess of food stocks has been reduced, but not eliminated: stocks of
wheat and rice are 50 million tonnes relative to the buffer requirement of 41 million tonnes. See Sandip Das, Despite
22 Per Cent Fall in Wheat Procurement, FCI Stocks Higher than Buffer Norms,The Financial Express (22 July 2016), p. 1
thanbuffernorms/325033/, accessed 9 Nov. 2016].
11. Ashok Gulati, Prevent Food Mountain Turning into Waste Heap,The Economic Times (10 May 2012), p. 13.
12. Gary Singleton, Impacts of Rodents on Rice Production in Asia, International Rice Research Institute, Manila, n.d., p. 8 Singleton cites the work of K. Hart saying that overall losses of grain
to rodents in India were approximately 25% in the eld before harvest and 2530% post harvest.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
Yet farmers appear to be on a production treadmill. Increased farm output is a sign of
the distress that farmers are experiencing because of low agricultural prices; their response
has been to increase production in an effort to increase family incomes. But sales at such
low prices are rightly described as distress sales; they contribute to the farmersindebted-
ness because their costs of production cannot be covered.
In this paper we have approached the question of Indias food security from a totally
different position from those outlined above: we ask what role might traditional knowl-
edge and traditional food production systems play in addressing the problems of the
194 million Indians who are undernourished?
A quarter of the 795 million people in the
world who are undernourished or hungry are Indian,
so Indian responses to this prob-
lem have global ramications.
Dening traditional knowledge
The concept of traditional knowledgemight be perceived as involving binary opposites.
For example, traditional might be juxtaposed to modernor similar binary notions such
as Western vs. non-Western, local vs. global, Western vs. pre-scientic/primitive, indige-
nous vs. scientic or ethno science vs. techno science.
Chambers was one of the rst
scholars to raise the question of the different terms that might be used to describe tradi-
tional knowledge: he nally opted for rural peoples knowledge.
It is not our intention
to create mutually-exclusive distinctions, and while Chambers is certainly inclusive, for
our purposes, his denition does not sufciently emphasise the extent to which farming
in India today has ignored local traditions. Hence we use the notion of traditional knowl-
edgeto distinguish between local farmerstraditional skills and knowledge and those
farmers who are dependent on industrially-generated concepts and inputs, for example
chemical pesticides.
On the other hand, our notion of traditional knowledgedoes not exclude farmers
combining new with old technologies by, for example, using modern communication sys-
tems or new seeds, plants and animal species if they are deemed most suitable for the local
resource endowment of their farms or the needs of their families. Such inputs, however,
need to be sustainable. In this respect, we agree with Paul Richards et al., who have
pointed out that the challenge is how to integrate [for example] new sources of plant
genetics information with indigenous knowledge based on farmer practice.
together traditional knowledge and relevant, sustainable new knowledgeincluding an
understanding of the role of genetic researchhas been stressed by many observers. After
13. FAO, IFAD, WFP, The State of Food Insecurity in the World (Rome: The Food and Agriculture Organization, 2015),
Table A1 p. 46 [, accessed 29 Oct. 2016]. The FAO denes hunger as being synony-
mous with chronic undernourishmentand undernourishment means that a person is not able to acquire enough
food to meet the daily minimum dietary energy requirements, over a period of one year. FAO, The FAO World Hunger
Map (Rome: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015), p. 1 [
, accessed 29 Oct. 2016].
14. FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the World, p. 8, Table 1.
15. Carla Roncoli, Keith Ingram and Paul Kirshen, Reading the Rains: Local Knowledge and Rainfall Forecasting in Burkina
Faso,inSociety and Natural Resources, Vol. 15, no. 5 (2002), p. 410; and Paul Richards, Community Environmental
Knowledge in African Rural Development,IDS Bulletin, Vol. 10, no. 2 (2009), p. 28.
16. Robert Chambers, Rural Development: Putting the Last First (London: Longman, 1983), pp. 823.
17. Paul Richards et al.,Seed Systems for African Food Security: Linking Molecular Genetic Analysis and Cultivator Knowl-
edge in West Africa,inInternational Journal of Technology Management, Vol. 45, no. 1/2 (2009), p. 198.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
all, for thousands of years, farmers throughout the world experimented in an unsuper-
with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration,
trading networks, gift exchanges, pilgrimages or accidental diffusion. By learning and
doing, trial and error, mixing seeds, animals and species and then comparing the results
of different farming strategies,
new knowledge has been blended with older, traditional
knowledge systems. The key factor in this process is that the decision of how, when and
what to farm needs to be made by the local farmer who understands the resource endow-
ment of the micro-environment she cultivates.
This point was made much earlier by Chambers who noted the superior learning facul-
ties possessed by the farmer when compared to the urban expert, in particular acute
observation, good memory for detail, and transmission through teaching, apprenticeship
and story-telling.
Moreover, when farmers introduce new species into their farming
practices, they typically test the results out themselves by eating the new products or feed-
ing them to their animals.
Sometimes incorporating new food into traditional diets
requires a couple of years for the farmers to apply their experimental mentality
domesticate a new species, make it palatable and ensure that it is safe to eat. However, as
we explain in the fourth paper in this collection, Food from Sewage,
in the case of the
sh in the East Kolkata Wetlands, when traditional farming practices are put under stress
because the local environment is evolving from a rural into an industrial landscape, these
time-tested methods do not always work.
A good example of this can be seen in the ndings of Stone in Maharashtra. In Waran-
gal, farmers successively adopted, abandoned and then re-adopted Bt cotton-growing, but
their decisions were not driven by agro-ecological considerations. Nor were small or large
farmers able to test out any of the seeds by experimentation, which normally happens in
traditional farming practices. Instead they found themselves at the mercy of seed vendors
who sold whatever seed they had in stock regardless of what the farmers wanted. Without
agricultural support services from trusted non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such
as the Yuva Rural Association (YRA) or the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) dis-
cussed in the third and fth papers in this collection, farmers had to depend on local
shopkeepers. They believed they were buying the latest and best seeds, and in the process,
they even created a rushon whatever supplies were available. Stone describes this as a
buzzin the air.
At one stage farmers were so xated on obtaining a particular seed that
seed vendors ended up recycling unpopular seeds by renaming them and relaunch[ing]
18. Ibid., p. 202.
19. Paul Richards et al.,Farmer Knowledge and Plant Genetic Resources Management,inIn Situ Conservation and Sustain-
able Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Developing Countries, Report of a DSE/ATSAF/ IPGRI work-
shop, 24 May 1995, BonnR
ottgen, Germany (Rome: IPGRI, 1995), n.p.g. [
leadmin/bioversity/publications/Web_version/62/ch09.htm, accessed 21 April 2017].
20. Chambers, Rural Development, p. 89.
21. Ao Zannou, Paul Richards and Paul C. Struik, Knowledge on Yam Variety Development: Insights from Farmersand
ResearchersPractices,inKnowledge Management for Development Journal, Vol. 2, no. 3 (2006), pp. 312.
22. Chambers, Rural Development, p. 91.
23. Marika Vicziany, Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay and Somenath Bhattacharyya, Food from Sewage: Fish from the East Kol-
kata Wetlands and the Limits of Traditional Knowledge, in this issue, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol.
40, no. 3 (2017), doi:10.1080/00856401.2017.1341038.
24. Glenn Davis Stone, The Birth and Death of Traditional Knowledge: Paradoxical Effects of Biotechnology in India,in
Charles McManis (ed.), Biodiversity and the Law: Intellectual Property, Biotechnology and Traditional Knowledge (London:
Earthscan, 2007), p. 225.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
market initiatives.
Stone concluded that as a result, very little environmental learning
can occurin these conditions.
In our essays, we show how this kind of petty, local market manipulation can be
avoided by a move back to traditional forms of farming using organic methods. In organic
farming regimes, farmers create their own seed supplies for replanting, or they swap seeds
with neighbours in the event that they want different kinds of crops. In paper 5, Extend-
ing Traditional Food Knowledge into New Marketing Institutions,
we see that organic
farmers are selling their organic seed stocks locally or preparing them for sale to wider
markets via new institutions such as SAPCO, the farmersown producer company. Our
argument is that the system of organic farming gives small farmers better control over
what they are doing and that this contributes to enhancing their pool of traditional knowl-
edge. As in the past, it is through this means that traditional knowledge in the villages can
continue to evolve.
The risks to farmers of not having accurate information are even greater than Stones
concern about buying the right kinds of seeds. Richards asserts that the problem is that
the farmer will not know that which he cannot observe fully and completely.
He cites
four phenomena beyond the vision of the farmer: microscopic entities, prices determined
in distant markets, long-term climate change and resource degradation caused by regional
factors such as population pressure.
In Food from Sewage, we analyse one example in
which the production of food has been compromised by microscopic entities, namely
the heavy metals released by the industries of Kolkata into the sewage/stormwater in
which the sh are cultivated.
Traditional knowledge can also be lost. There are powerful historical examples of this
from many parts of the world.
Australias indigenous people suffered traumatic demo-
graphic and cultural shocks due to European settlement and, in the process, lost much of
their knowledge about food and the environment.
25. Ibid., p. 221.
26. Ibid., p. 222.
27. Marika Vicziany and Jagjit Plahe, Extending Traditional Food Knowledge into New Marketing Institutions for Small
Farmers, in this issue, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol. 40, no. 3 (2017), doi: 10.1080/
28. Stone cites many other examples of farmers not being aware of what they were doing: most could not give an accurate
denition of Bt cotton seeds even after 14 years of its presence in local markets; others did not know that there were four
types of Bt seeds on the market; some farmers bought different sized bags thinking they were different when they were
not. See Glenn Davis Stone and Andrew Flachs, The Problem with the FarmersVoice,inAgriculture and Human Values,
Vol. 31, no. 4 (2014), p. 652; Glenn Davis Stone, Field versus Farm in Warangal: Bt Cotton, Higher Yields, and Larger Ques-
tions,inWorld Development,Vol.39,no.3(2010),p.394;andGlennDavisStone,Towards a General Theory of Agricultural
Knowledge Production: Environmental, Social, and Didactic Learning,inCulture, Agriculture, Food and Environment,Vol.38,
no. 1 (2016), p. 7.
29. Paul Richards, Community Environmental Knowledge in African Rural Development,inIDS Bulletin, Vol. 10, no. 2
(2009), p. 30.
30. Ibid., pp. 301.
31. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Amazon had dense populations that cultivated the infertile soils using biochar: see Friar
Gaspar de Carvajal, Discovery of the Orellana River c. 15421543, in H.C. Heaton (ed.), The Discovery of the Amazon According
to the Account of Friar Gaspar de Carvajal and other Documents (New York: American Geographical Society, 1934), pp. 167
235; and Frederique Apffel-Marglin, Can Soil Solve Global Warming?TEDxYouth@LincolnSudbury (29 March 2013) [https://, accessed 21 April 2017]. See also the International Biochar Initiative (2017)
[, accessed 22 April 2017].
32. Ian J. McNiven and Damein Bell, Fishers and Farmers: Historicising the Gunditjmara Freshwater Fishery, Western Victoria,in
La Trobe Journal, no. 85 (May 2010), pp. 83106; Ian J. McNiven, Joe Crouch, Thomas Richards, Kale Sniderman, Nic Dolby
and Gunditj Mirring, Phased Redevelopment of an Ancient Gunditjmara Fish Trap over the Past 800 Years: Muldoons Trap
Complex, Lake Condah, Southwestern Victoria,inAustralian Archaeology, Vol. 81, no. 1 (2015), pp. 4459.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
Plenty of Indian examples of loss of knowledge can be found. And where it happens, it
is typically poor small farmers who carry the burden. During the 1980s, better-off farmers
in Pune district (Maharashtra) began to grow commercial crops with a view to generating
prots. They mechanised the irrigation wells, but many poor farmers could not afford
this or the risks of mechanisation. The local skills and knowledge needed to build and
operate non-motorised wells began to decline and were likely to disappear, along with
water diviners, self-help community groups and village festivals that had underpinned
traditionalapproaches to irrigation.
Traditional knowledge can also be threatened by innovativetechnological solutions
imposed from above by state agencies and external experts. In the early 1990s, Kerr and Sanghi
reported on differences between modern soil and water conservation practices being promoted
by Indian authorities and traditional practices favoured by small farmers. American ideas were
very inuential and many Indian experts believed that contour lines should be introduced into
Indian villages. Local farmers, however, opposed them because the contour lines would cut
across the individual farmersplots and existing boundaries, which not only demarcated one
holding from the next, but were also used to grow supplementary crops to improve farmers
incomes and well-being.
Contour lines might be appropriate for large American farms using
machinery, but totally inappropriate for Indian conditions.
To make the idea work would
have required a large group of Indian farmers to agree and collaborate on water and soil con-
servation strategies.
Underlying these conicting strategies were different perceptions of what
constitutes conservation. American ideas were narrowly focused on maximising soil and water
resources, while Indias farmers looked at the broad context that took into account many com-
peting factors that were equally important to them if they were to generate protable and sus-
tainable farms. They also made careful calculations about the extent to which soil and water
conservation would increase their output. Depending on their assessments, they would put in
more or less effort, but they used the boundaries between their plots as the basis for their strate-
gies for capturing or releasing water, soil and nutrients. This reminds us of what Chambers
calls the need for governments and outside experts to reverse the learning processes by putting
the local knowledge of the poorest farmers ahead of their own scienticinsights.
nately, these lessons have not yet been absorbed by many Indian experts and government agen-
cies. The persistence of Green Revolution strategies continues to make poor small Indian
farmers susceptible to the impact of crop failures as argued in the second paper in this collec-
tion, The Marginalisation and Resurgence of Traditional Knowledge Systems.
33. Arjun Appadurai, Technology and the Reproduction of Values in Rural Western India, in Frederique Apffel-Marglin and
Stephen A. Marglin (eds), Dominating Knowledge: Development, Culture and Resistance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990),
pp. 20411.
34. John Kerr and N.K. Sanghi, Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation in Indias Semi-Arid Tropics,inGatekeeper Series
SA34, International Institute for Environment and Development, London (1992), p. 6 [
6048IIED.pdf, accessed 30 Oct. 2016].
35. Ibid., p. 11.
36. FarmergovernmentNGO science partnerships have also been recommended for many other countries. See Fiona
Hinchcliffe, Irene Guijt, Jules N. Pretty and Parmesh Shah, New Horizons: The Economic, Social and Environmental
Impacts of Participatory Watershed Development,inGatekeeper Series SA50, International Institute for Environment
and Development, London (1994) [, accessed 30 Oct. 2016].
37. Chambers, Rural Development, pp. 20115. Chambers goes on to suggest ways in which outside experts can learn from
the poorest farmers.
38. Lachlan Gregory, Jagjit Plahe and Sarah Cockeld, The Marginalisation and Resurgence of Traditional Knowledge Sys-
tems in India: Agro-Ecological Islands of Successor a Wave of Change?, in this issue, South Asia: Journal of South
Asian Studies, Vol. 40, no. 3 (2017), doi:10.1080/00856401.2017.1336686.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
The stress faced by small farmers in the drylands or semi-arid parts of India
has been
exacerbated by their loss of access to common property resources such as community
pastures, community forests, waste lands, common dumping and threshing grounds,
watershed drainages, village ponds, and rivers and rivulets as well as their banks and
This loss of access has been caused by the commercialisation of agriculture and
rural resources, land grabs by large landowners and urban interests, and population pres-
The rural poor, including small farmers, were disproportionately affected by these
stresses because their limited resources compelled them to turn to common property for
grazing, rewood and hunting of small animals (e.g. rats).
In some cases, the privatisa-
tion of common lands might involve poor farmers receiving a small share of the land, but
it is typically of poor quality or unt to farm. Lacking capital for land improvement, they
resort to selling the land, thus ensuring total loss of any future benet from land previ-
ously held in common.
Alternatively the poor farmersdesperation may drive them to
overexploit common resources by overcrowding and the removal of plant roots.
the rich nor the poor seek to slow down the degradation of common property resources.
While not all these aspects of dry farming and the predicaments of small producers are
addressed in this collection, the literature review presented here provides the broader con-
text within which our work is situated. In particular, the papers focus on how poor small-
holder farmers can minimise the many risks posed to the sustainability of their farms by
new environmental, social and market factors.
We have not addressed here how matters of caste and class impact on small farmers in
India. This is not only an enormously complex subject, but also one where the common
assumptions of the past are shifting rapidly in directions that might not have been pre-
dicted at the height of the Green Revolution. There are reports of small and even not so
smallfarmers joining their formerly bonded labourers on buses travelling from Telan-
gana to Mumbai to search for jobs.
And in the heart of Green Revolution territory in
western Uttar Pradesh, there is a new Jat farmersmovement demanding reservation of
public service jobs for Jats.
To avoid the loss of crops and income, farmers typically engage in risk minimising
strategies. However, small farmers are better placed to do this because long before any cri-
sis looms, they can, for example, take measures to manage drought. There are many ways
39. Our understanding of these terms agrees with N.S. Jodhasdenition: [Areas with]low and variable rainfall, frequent
droughts, heterogeneous (including erodible and low fertility) land resourceslow regenerative capacitiesand high
risk production options. See N.S. Jodha, Common Property Resources and the Environmental Context: Role of Bio-
physical versus Social Stresses,inEconomic & Political Weekly, Vol. 30, no. 51 (23 Dec. 1995), p. 3278.
40. N.S. Jodha, Depletion of Common Property Resources in India: Micro-Level Evidence,inPopulation and Development
Review, Vol. 15, Supplement: Rural Development and Population: Institutions and Policy (1989), p. 261.
41. Ibid., pp. 2623.
42. For estimates of this dependence across seven arid regions of India in the early 1980s, see ibid., p. 266, Table 1.
43. Ibid., p. 271 and Tables 4 and 5, pp.2723.
44. N.S. Jodha, Rural Common Property Resources: Contributions and Crisis,inEconomic & Political Weekly, Vol. 25, no. 26
(1990), pp. A72A74, Table 12.
45. Jodha, Common Property Resources and the Environmental Context, pp. 32813, esp. Tables 5, 6, 7.
46. P. Sainath, Decadal Journeys: Debt and Despair Spur Urban Growth,The Hindu (26 Sept. 2011) [http://www.thehindu.
com/opinion/columns/sainath/decadal-journeys-debt-and-despair-spur-urban-growth/article2487670.ece, accessed 13
Sept. 2014].
47. In the words of Ajit Singh, a Jat leader, the authority of the Jats has declined, the power of both Hindu and Muslim
landlords has fallen, and differences in income and status are becoming increasingly blurred. He said: The differences
between the haves and have nots in villages is going downit is not possible to increase income greatly any more.
Marika Vicziany, interviews with Ajit Singh, New Delhi, 8 Mar. 2016 and 14 Feb. 2017.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
of classifying their strategies: folk agronomy including the growth of cereals with long
stalks that can be used as fodder; cropping practices that promote biodiversity; ethno-
engineering approaches to soil and water conservation; indigenous agroforestry including
crop-bush fallow rotation; occupational diversity and various kinds of mixed farming
approaches; using self-provisioning systems on farm recycling; and collective sharing sys-
tems such as managing common resource properties.
Taken together, these approaches
are summarised in the concept of biodiversity. How to encourage and sustain biodiversity
is the central concern of all the papers we present here, for it is through biodiversity that
the limitations and risks of industrially driven monoculture are best addressed.
Intercropping, or in the case of pisciculture, the cultivation of different sh species in a
single pond, is one of the most effective ways of promoting biodiversity. Greater biodiver-
sity has benecial spin-offs beyond reducing the loss of crops by, for example, increasing
the demand for the labour of women and girls.
Intercropping also generates other bene-
ts as, for instance, sowing green manure crops.
Sann hemp (Crotalaria juncea) has
nutritious leaves, long stems for making rope and promotes soil fertility while repelling
Moreover, intercropping involves much more than intermixing seeds or cultivat-
ing alternating strips of land with different crops: farmers know their micro-environment,
so they can plant crops that mature at different times, thereby facilitating more rapid crop
rotation without exhausting the soil. By contrast, industrially-based agricultural produc-
tion erodes biodiversity by depleting the organisms that live in soil, and making adverse
changes to the structure of the soil and the kind of plants that can be grown in such arti-
cially-created environments.
Such biodiverse farming practices were still being documented in the 1980s, but since
then, the rapid incursion of industrially-based mono-cropping has come to dominate.
However, now attention is turning back to these traditional farming practices because
rural stress has, in the worst case scenarios, led to farmer suicides. These farmers had
turned to mono-cropping of HYVs (High Yielding Varieties).
The costs of growing
HYVs are high because they require irrigation as well as industrially-produced fertilisers,
pesticides and weedicides. But when HYVs are attacked by pests, they require even more
industrial chemicals to kill them. Hence the indebtedness of farmers begins to escalate.
Moreover, this kind of scenario does not always arise under drought conditions. Between
June 1997 and July 1998, Bidar district in arid northern Karnataka experienced heavy
48. N.S. Jodha, Drought Management: Farmers Strategies and Their Policy Implications,inEconomic & Political Weekly,
Vol. 26, no. 39 (28 Sept. 1991), p. A99, Table 1.
49. See, for example, N.S. Jodha, Intercropping in Traditional Farming Systems,inJournal of Development Studies, Vol. 16,
no. 3 (1980), pp. 42742.
50. Green manure crops fertilise the soil when dug into the earth.
51. A.R. Vasavi, Agrarian Distress in Bidar(Bangalore: National Institute of Advanced Studies, 1999), p. 11 [http://dspace., accessed 11
June 2017].
52. L. Thrupp, Linking Agricultural Biodiversity and Food Security: The Valuable Role of Agrobiodiversity for Sustainable
Agriculture,inInternational Affairs, Vol. 76, no. 2 (2000), p. 266.
53. HYVs were the rst modern example of industrial engineering in agriculture. HYVs were originally developed by scien-
tists in the USA, Mexico, Vietnam and the Philippines, then imported and acclimatised in India. Their plant characteris-
tics were a large edible head, short stems, short growing seasons, ability to grow under cloud cover and allowing a
high density of plants per plot. They were high yieldingbecause these features maximised the edible part of each
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
rain, much moisture and cloudy skies that promoted an outbreak of heliothis, a moth
whose larvae eat the leaves, buds, owers, pods, seeds and fruit of crops.
The farmers of
Bidar were facing great losses because they had moved away from traditional practices
that involved growing a range of dry cereal crops to planting mainly HYV pulses,
red gram and Bengal gram. The lack of biodiversity allowed heliothis to attack the pulses
and destroy between 60 and 80 percent of the crops.
Further indebtedness occurred
when the farmers bought food which was more expensive than usual because local sup-
plies were low. Alternative employment was not available either due to the decline of local
handicraft industries such as bidri.
Thirteen heavily-indebted farmers committed
The scenarios described above resonate with what we found in Maharashtra, Andhra
Pradesh, Telangana and Sikkim, with one major difference: in our reports on the farming
experiments being conducted there, we saw attempts being made to reinstate and reinvent
many aspects of traditional farming practices as a way of helping poor small farmers move
towards debt-free and sustainable agriculture. Our research reafrms the observations
made by Chambers and others in the 1980s: Many of the practices of small farmers which
were once regarded as primitive or misguided are now recognized as sophisticated and
In paper 2 in this collection, The Marginalisation and Resurgence of Tra-
ditional Knowledge Systems, we document how, in recognition of the importance of these
practices, the chief minister of Sikkim decided in 2003 to transform Sikkim into a fully
organic state. This shift in understandings of what constitutes good farming practices has
accelerated with the growing emphasis on sustaining economies and cultures rather than
on conventional growth.
Moreover, the new orientation is turning attention back to local environments which
farmers know best, rather than assuming that innovation happens in a linear manner
directed by scientists or technocrats who know more because of laboratory experiments.
Perhaps most importantly, the new appreciation of traditional knowledge recognises that
social networks can play a greater role than technical considerations in driving the daily
decisions of farmers who micromanage their resources.
This matches our own ndings.
For example, in paper 5, Extending Traditional Food Knowledge, we see that despite
many problems in using the new marketing system set up by CSA, most of the farmers
remained loyal to this NGO because they are keen to escape from their old dependence
on powerful middlemen.
The foregoing benets of traditional knowledge and the expertise of the farmer has
been recently restated in more dramatic form by van der Ploeg, who has argued for the
superiority of peasant production over commercial, modern farming methods:
54. Helicoverpa species(Brisbane: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland Government, 2017) [https://www.
list/helicoverpa/helicoverpa-species, accessed 16 April 2017].
55. Vasavi, Agrarian Distress in Bidar, pp. 112.
56. Ibid., p. 24, Table II, p. 26, Table III.
57. Ibid., p. 9.
58. Chambers, Rural Development, p. 85.
59. M. Stuiver, C. Leeuwis and J.D. van der Ploeg, The Power of Experience: FarmersKnowledge and Sustainable Innova-
tions in Agriculture, in J.S.C. Wiskerke and J.D. van der Ploeg (eds), Essays on Novelty Production, Niches and Regimes
in Agriculture (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2004), p. 95.
60. Ibid., pp. 968.
61. Ibid., p. 103.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
peasant agriculture contributes moreto total agricultural growth and, consequently, to the
provision of food, than other modes of agricultural production.
We return to the efciency of small farmer production in the next section.
But van der Ploeg also stressed that farming was not only about economics, but also
about the sustainability of the family and social networks. We document the importance
of building traditional knowledge networks in paper 3, Livelihood Crises in Vidarbha.
This social commitment, together with local knowledge, makes poor farmers more resil-
ient in the face of unpredictable shocks.
Moreover, when subjected to shocks, poor
farmers have greater fortitude in rebuilding production rather than escaping into urban
lifestyles. Most importantly for our work, van der Ploeg describes the emergence of a new
kind of peasant farm from those that survived the rural crises of the last three or four dec-
ades. His case studies, although based in Latin America and Europe, seem to speak to the
potential of the experiments that we analyse in the papers collected here. The farms he
investigated were multifunctional, more dependent on their own resources than the pur-
chase of market products, and were creating new services and new products which are
increasingly sold through new, nested marketsoften actively and jointly constructed by
farmers and consumers.
These types of farms stand in stark contrast to the more vul-
nerable specialised producers who have to respond to regional and global market
demands, which are unpredictable in the long run. The case studies here are largely about
these new kinds of experimental farms, which, in the Indian context, not only produce for
their own needs, but also create new organic foods for markets outside their immediate
villages. In the nal paper, Extending Traditional Food Knowledge, we discuss an experi-
ment in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra which is trying to create farmer-
based marketing networks that directly link villagers to urban consumers. The Govern-
ment of Sikkim is facing similar challenges. However, as we argue, the entry of poor, small
organic farmers into the retail sector is as difcult as it is revolutionary.
Positioning our papers
In the papers in this collection, we have been mindful of the concerns expressed by the
authors whose work we reviewed above. Much has been written about the problems and
advantages facing small farmers, but the special difculties that arise from growing and
trading in organic produce is far less well known. With organic farming and marketing,
small farmers face extra disadvantages: rst they have to make themselves independent of
the markets that have until now supplied them with industrial inputs; and second, if they
wish to produce beyond their own subsistence needs, they have to conform to the highly-
62. Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Peasant-Driven Agricultural Growth and Food Sovereignty,inICAS Review Paper Series, no.
6 (Sept. 2013), p. 9 [,
accessed 13 April 2017].
63. Jagjit Plahe, Sarah Wright and Miriam Marembo, Livelihoods Crises in Vidarbha, India: Food Sovereignty through Tra-
ditional Farming Systems as a Possible Solution, in this issue, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol. 40, no. 3
(2017), doi:10.1080/00856401.2017.1339581.
64. Van der Ploeg, Peasant-Driven Agricultural Growth, pp. 103. According to Vanhaute: peasant societies are the best
guarantee against large-scale human disastersthe future is in a new peasantation. See Eric Vanhaute, The End of
Peasantries? Rethinking the Role of Peasantries in a WorldHistorical View,inReview (Fernand Braudel Centre), Vol. 31,
no. 1 (2008), p. 54.
65. Van der Ploeg, Peasant-Driven Agricultural Growth and Food Sovereignty, p. 14.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
exacting quality standards for organic produce both domestically and internationally. To
do both, they need to re-adopt organic farming practices which, with few exceptions, have
been forgotten or abandoned or survive only in partial forms.
Our main purpose has been to address the complexity of these issues by an analysis of
new experiments that are taking place in the semi-arid regions of Maharashtra, Andhra
Pradesh and Telangana and the wet mountainous area of Sikkim (papers 2, 3 and 5). In
the fourth paper, we consider the constraints on traditional knowledge in the East Kolkata
Wetlands. We juxtapose the experiments in organic farming and marketing with farming
practices driven by the industrial technologies that dened the Green Revolution and the
Gene Revolution. We see the experiments as constituting traditionalrather than local
practices because this brings out more strongly the contrast between organic farming and
industrial farming methods, whether we are talking about seed varieties, fertilisers, pesti-
cides or soil and water conservation.
Traditional food systems are built on different principles from those that govern mod-
ern industrially-based agriculture (Table 1). First, traditional knowledge promotes food
production through biodiversity in contrast to modern agricultures trend towards mono-
cultures. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates
that globally, a mere 20 cultivated plant species account for 90 percent of all the plant-
based food consumed by humans.
The narrow genetic base of the global food system
has put food security at serious risk. The FAO argues that conserving and using biodiver-
sity in a sustainable manner contributes to intensied agricultural production, which in
turn ensures food security and better livelihoods for farmers.
Second, traditional food
production systems depend on using the knowledge and expertise of village communities
and cultures in contrast to prioritising imported, industrialcommercial inputs. The wide-
spread but articial conditions created by the latter work against the survival of traditional
knowledge, which creates and sustains unique indigenous farming practices and food cul-
and high levels of genetic diversity.
The common factor shared by modern and traditional farming practices in India, and
in most parts of the world, is that small farms dominate in terms of the number of farms,
total food output and higher levels of productivity relative to large farms. Small Indian
farms are more efcient than large farms
and they produce most of Indias cereals, vege-
tables, fruit and milk on less than 40 percent of agricultural land (Table 1).
Large farms
dominate only when it comes to the proportion of agricultural land that they hold, namely
66. FAO, FAO and Traditional Knowledge: The Linkages with Sustainability, Food Security and Climate Change Impacts
(Rome: FAO, 2009), p. 4 [, accessed 29 Oct. 2016].
67. FAO, Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture: Contributing to Food Security and Sustainability in a Changing World (Rome:
FAO, 2011), pp. 166 [, accessed 29
Oct. 2016].
68. Wahyudi David, Nayu N. Widianingsih, Anwar Kasim and Angelika Ploeger, Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Traditional
Farming System on Natural Resources Management, Conference paper at 2nd International Conference on Biodiversity
(2012) p. 1 [
ming_System_on_Natural_Resources_Management, accessed 31 Oct. 2016].
69. FAO, FAO and Traditional Knowledge, p. 3; Ben McKay, A Socially Inclusive Pathway to Food Security: The Agroeco-
logical Alternative, Research Brief no. 23 (Bras
ılia: International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth, June 2012), p. 1.
70. Michael Lipton, Can Small Farmers Survive, Prosper, or be the Key Channel to Cut Mass Poverty?,inJournal of Agricul-
tural and Development Economics, Vol. 3, no. 1 (2006), pp. 5885 [
htm, accessed 6 June 2016].
71. S. Mahendra Dev, Small Farmers in India: Challenges and Opportunities(Mumbai: Indira Gandhi Institute of Develop-
ment Research, June 2012), pp. 67[, accessed 29 Oct. 2016].
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
about 60 percent. The smallholder productivity occurs despite poor small farmerslimited
access to credit and water.
Small farms throughout the developing world have a competitive advantage over large
farms and in the period, 19852000, FAO data showed not only an increase in the number
of small farms, but also an increase in the percentage of agricultural land held by them.
Although small farms have survived a period of intense liberalization and globalisation,
Lipton wonders how they will fare when catering to ever-more sophisticated and dis-
persed markets
because effective marketing requires the scaling up of volumes of traded
goods as well as skills such as meeting more demanding quality standards and creating
predictable supply chains for the transport and storage of goods.
The general environ-
ment in India for organic products grown by small producers is favourable due to rising
demand, but there is also a retail revolution taking place. Unfortunately, evidence from
Europe and India suggests that these changes are working disproportionately to the bene-
t of larger operators, in particular new foreign and domestic entrants into retailing.
The creation of new supply chains that link small farmers directly with urban consumers
is fraught, as paper 5 in this collection explains.
The marketing of organic produce depends critically on sustaining the small farmers
traditional knowledge systems, of which they have been custodians. But this requires the
reinvention and reintroduction of traditional knowledge that has been lost or over-
whelmed by a fascination with new imported technologies that still promise to bring mas-
sive increases in yields, followed by higher prots and incomes. How such traditional
knowledge can be reintroduced is the central concern of all the papers in this issue. Typi-
cally, we found that a determined and well-funded external catalyst is needed. For exam-
ple, in 2006, the farmers in Enebavi village declared themselves fully organic as a result of
a process that had begun in 2001, when a few farmers stopped using industrial pesticides
Table 1. Different principles behind modern and traditional agriculture systems in India.
Modern Traditional
Monocultures Polycultures and biodiversity
Exogenous, science-based, commercial inputs Local, reusable, organic inputs
Lower productivity per hectare Higher productivity per hectare
Capital-intensive Labour-intensive
Increasing dominance of large producers (60 percent of
agricultural land)
Dominated by small farmers (40 percent of
agricultural land)
Common Factors
92 percent of all Indian farms are small, on average 0.6 hectares
Small farmers produce 70 percent of Indian vegetables, 55 percent of fruit, 52 percent of cereals and 69 percent of milk
on some 40 percent of India's total agricultural land
Sources: GRAIN, Hungry for Land: Small Farmers Feed the World with Less than a Quarter of All Farmland(28 May
2014), p. 3, Table 3 [
less-than-a-quarter-of-all-farmland, accessed 11 June 2017]; and S. Mahendra Dev, Small Farmers in India: Challenges
and Opportunities(Mumbai: Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, June 2012), pp. 67[http://www., accessed 29 Oct. 2016].
72. Lipton, Can Small Farmers Survive, Prosper, or be the Key Channel to Cut Mass Poverty?, p. 81.
73. Ibid., pp. 7981.
74. The face of Indias future is reected in the fear that even large retailers in Australia have of the new retailing giant,
Amazon, which has entered the fresh vegetable markets of Europe and North America and, through its Internet sys-
tem, delivers within an hour of ordering online. See Eli Greenblat, Fast and Vast Amazon on its Way,The Australian
(20 April 2017), pp. 1, 20.
75. Vicziany, It Takes Two to Tango, pp. 2589.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
and reverted to non-pesticide management (NPM) techniques promoted by the Govern-
ment of Andhra Pradesh. But the state government was not the major agent of change. It
provided funding for NPM, but the most important agent of change was a group of scien-
tists, especially entomologists, led by N.K. Sanghi, whose role had been to retrieve, collect
and systematise what remained of traditional knowledge from the memories and intermit-
tent practices of small farmers.
What all the scientists shared was a belief that industrial pesticides were being overused
and, given their high costs, making farmers poorer. Sanghi, an agricultural scientist with
the Indian Council for Agricultural Research in Hyderabad, and Vittal Ranjan, the head
of Think Soft, a local NGO, became interested in infestations of red hairy caterpillar that
had destroyed large swathes of crops.
Sanghi wondered how farmers used to cope with
red hairy caterpillar plagues before the arrival of expensive industrial pesticides. By talking
to older farmers, he discovered that they knew the intimate details of the life cycle of the
caterpillar and what kind of environmental and weather conditions promoted outbreaks.
He was told that in some villages in Andhra Pradesh, just prior to the arrival of the mon-
soon, farmers followed the old habit of lighting huge bonres to kill the caterpillar moths
that were attracted to the heat and light. Sanghi and Vittal and the other scientists
matched these farmersmemories and practices with their scienticunderstanding of
pest control, and then were able to convince the state government to promote natural
management of this pest.
The conclusion is that when traditional knowledge begins to
erode, it does so slowly in ts and starts. In this situation, reversals are possible.
Sanghi and his colleagues discovered that the farmersoral traditions also encompassed
a range of strategies including the use of organic insect repellents. This led to the scientists
recognising the importance of the neem tree of India, a highly resilient species that grows
in the harshest of climates and has long been used there as an insect repellent. By prepar-
ing a neem extract and applying it to the crops, the farmers in some thirty villages
eliminated the red hairy caterpillar within three years.
As well, the farmerstraditional
knowledge included other organic pesticides such as Panchagavya, an Ayurvedic com-
pound made from ve cow products, namely dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee.
This example of the eradication of the red hairy caterpillar illustrates the kind of local
farmer expertise in India that we discussed in the rst part of this paper when reviewing
the work of various authors. Given the complex nature of contemporary agriculture,
many of these authors also drew attention to the need to bridge the gap between the
knowledge of local farmers and the scientic community. Government funding for agri-
cultural development needs to be driven by bottom-up information, rather than the top-
down expertisetypical of the Green and Gene Revolutions. The argument is not about
whose knowledge is superior, but it is about recognising that the farmer best understands
the micro-environment in which she farms, possesses traditional knowledge about what
works and what does not work in that ecological niche, and yet, at the same time, could
benet from further insights derived from outside her immediate environment. How to
bring together these three perspectives to promote sustainable rural developmentthe
76. This section is based on Julia Quartz, Constructing Agrarian Alternatives: How a Creative Dissent Project Engages with
the Vulnerable Livelihood Conditions of Marginal Farmers in South India, PhD thesis, Universiteit Maastricht, Maas-
tricht, 2011, pp. 5762.
77. Ibid., p. 58.
78. Ibid.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
perspectives of the farmer, the scientist and the statehas exercised Chambers and his
colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University since 1987.
papers 2 and 5, we cite similar examples of such collaborations in Sikkim and in central
India and Uttarakhand. However, these are exceptions; more typically, government poli-
cies in India remain awed in this regard.
The origins of this special issue
The idea for this collection began during a three-week Australian Awards Fellowship Pro-
gram, Understanding and Promoting Links between Traditional Culture/Knowledge, Food
Security and Sustainability in South Asia, held at Monash University in 2015.
specialists from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India met with Australian scholars and experts.
Two of our research partners, Datta Patil and Dr. G.V. Ramanjeneyulu (known as Ramoo),
are examples of a new generation of leaders who are not only thinking about the crisis in
South Asian agriculture, but are working to bring together farming communities to solve
theirownproblems,ratherthanwaitingforstate-based initiatives. Datta Patil heads
the Yuva Rural Association (YRA) in Nagpur, and Ramoo heads the Centre for Sustainable
Agriculture (CSA) in Secunderabad. YRA and CSA are two of Indiasmostinnovative
NGOs, but we were careful not to be carried away by the enthusiasm of Patil and Ramoo.
We tested their evidence against other sources and also commissioned interviews with
farmers in Telangana and Maharashtra so that we could report on their assessment of the
work of CSA.
This rst paper by Vicziany and Plahe locates this collection within the context of a lit-
erature review that discusses the problems faced by small farmers and the extent to which
their livelihoods have been jeopardised by the move away from traditional agricultural
technologies to industrially-induced practices. We also provide an overview of the other
four papers and how they are interconnected. Fieldwork was undertaken in Andhra Pra-
desh, Telangana, Maharashtra, and Kolkata. All the papers deal with the problems faced
by poor small farmers; most of the case studies relate to arid areas in central India, except
for the case study of Sikkim and the cultivation of sh in Kolkata.
In the second paper, Gregory, Plahe and Cockeld explain the historical evolution of
conventional agricultural practices in India since the nineteenth century and how the
demands of the British Raj, the Green Revolution and the Gene Revolution undermined
traditional farming. Over the long run, the increasing commercialisation of Indian agri-
culture and the demands of new technologies for expensive industrially-generated inputs
such as chemical fertilisers placed enormous nancial pressures on small poor farmers.
The farmersindebtedness became the critical driving force behind many of them moving
back to traditional farming practices. This paper considers three different examples of
farmers moving away from the industrial farming system that has come to dominate
India. In two of the case studies, the agents of change were locally-based NGOs, although
funding came from various sources, including state governments. The third case study
focuses on the transformation of farming in Sikkim and how the state government there
79. See a brief history of the conferences and publications initiated by IDS and the Future Agricultures Consortium at
[, accessed 13 Feb. 2017].
80. The program was funded by the Australian governments Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
declared organic farming (based on traditional practices) to be ofcial policy. This case
study is worthy of greater attention and emulation because the Government of Sikkim has
been listening carefully to small local farmers and promoting traditional farming practices
that are more sensitive to the fragile environment of the region.
The cotton-growing belt of Vidarbha in Maharashtra has seen an extreme agrarian cri-
sis which has driven thousands of farmers to take their own lives. In the third paper,
Plahe, Wright and Marembo report on the ndings of a 200-household survey across four
districts in Vidarbha in 2015. This paper complements the previous one by providing an
in-depth analysis of how these farmers perceive the agrarian changes that were initiated
under the leadership of YRA. The authors explain how and why YRA has advocated the
adoption of sustainable agricultural practicesbased on traditional knowledge, known as
shashwat sheti in Marathi, and how they have supported the farmers whom they have
trained to shift from conventional to organic farming practices using traditional knowl-
edge. We believe that this is the rst study that empirically measures the impact of tradi-
tional farming practices on food security in Vidarbha. It documents the positive and
negative perceptions of the 200 farmers who responded to a questionnaire. The authors
adopt a food sovereigntyframework for their analysis, arguing that the survey results
show that the new organic farming approaches being followed are not only about reduc-
ing costs and increasing incomes, but also about giving local farmers greater control over
decisions, including the roles of women and village committees. They also nd that
knowledge featured as a strong theme in the accounts of participants surveyed for this
study. Rather than relying on external government or corporate agents, farmers are now
innovating on the farm, producing and sharing knowledge, and creating new ways of
practising shashwat sheti. In this respect, the paper conrms earlier ndings by Jodha and
others who stress that economic considerations by themselves are a necessary but insuf-
cient basis for understanding the decisions taken by farmers.
The fourth paper by Vicziany, Chattopadhyay and Bhattacharyya takes the discussion
about traditional knowledge systems beyond questions about land and crops to a consid-
eration of sh farming in the East Kolkata Wetlands. Raw sewage is fed into sh ponds
where it provides the essential nutrients for sh cultivation. The authors document the
strategies adopted by the sh growers which reect a wide range of traditionalfarming
practices. Today, the Wetlands provide the only sewage disposal system for Kolkatas
14 million people, while simultaneously supplementing residentsdiets with much-
needed protein. Unfortunately, the safety of eating these sh appears to have been com-
promised by industries that release industrial efuent, leading to heavy metal pollution.
The sh farmerstraditional knowledge of how to detoxify the sewage waters cannot han-
dle the heavy metal contamination because it sits outside the paradigms of existing local
knowledge. We are reminded of Richardswarning that the farmer will not know that
which he cannot observe fully and completely.
In the Wetlands, the microscopic enti-
tiesthat Richards describes take the form of heavy metals that lie beyond the acute
powers of observation possessed by poor small farmers.
81. N.S. Jodha, Poverty Debate in India: A Minority View,inEconomic & Political Weekly, Vol. 23, no. 45/47 (Nov. 1988),
pp. 24218.
82. Richards, Community Environmental Knowledge in African Rural Development, p. 30.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
In the nal paper, we return to the question raised by Lipton above, namely whether
poor small farmers can develop direct links with consumers. Vicziany and Plahe have ana-
lysed a new business model being developed by CSA to enable small farmers in Mahara-
shtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to develop supply chains independent of the usual
middlemen. They analyse how CSA has helped small farmers overcome some of the
obstacles associated with directly marketing their produce to urban consumers, especially
the certication of organic products. They also consider whether this experiment has
been able to scale up supplies in order to make an impact on the market, and whether the
newly-formed co-operatives and producer company have been able to address other issues
that worry small farmers, such as selling sufcient quantities of their goods and getting
cash returns quickly. And, nally, they ask whether the participating farmers see this
experiment to be benecial or not.
Dr. Madhushree Sekhar from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai supported us
by providing useful comments based on her eldwork in Odisha and Chhattisgarh where tribal
Khonds sell their uncultivatedforest products at local weekly markets. Special appreciation is due
to Professor Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay, vice-chancellor of Amity University, Kolkata, for drawing
our attention to the large body of literature concerning heavy metal pollution in India and the East
Kolkata Wetlands.
He joined Vicziany as a co-author of paper 4 and suggested that Dr. Somenath
Bhattacharyya join our project on the Wetlands. Thanks also to Jaideep Hardikar for interviewing
farmers in Telangana and Maharashtra. The Australian Awards Fellowship Program in Melbourne
involved indigenous Australian speakers and specialists such as Bruce Pascoe, who spoke about
traditional knowledge in their own communities. These discussions and site visits to indigenous
communities and gardens in Melbourne, Healesville, Alice Springs and Bairnsdale helped the
participants to see the common problems shared by Australia and India in the matter of food
security in an arid environment. These shared concerns will be revisited in forthcoming work by
the 51-member, inter-faculty Monash Food Security Group that Dr. Jagjit Plahe began to convene
three years ago.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
83. His research and publications cover the elds of molecular virology, Chandipura virus, molecular microbiology, micro-
bial ecology and enzymology. Most recently, he has been working on the microbial communities of North East Indias
oil renery areas.
Downloaded by [Professor Marika Vicziany] at 08:14 23 August 2017
... The estimated losses in fruits and vegetables are even higher and have reached 40% of the total produce. These high percentages of losses are not desirable in India and have affected the economy adversely (Vicziany and Plahe, 2017;Hegazy, 2013). The issue of production losses in a country like India has a more profound impact on the economy, as the agriculture sector contributes only 25% of the country's GDP, while it uses nearly twothirds of India's population. ...
... The integration of the agriculture industry with the rest of the world has necessitated the agri-supply chain to evolve and respond to new market realities. Evolving forces have impacted policy-making, and the outlook of government agencies toward private investments, encouraging them in agriculture marketing and infrastructure while inviting new players to promote coordinated supply chain and traceability (Vicziany and Plahe, 2017). ...
... Additionally, these Mandis are supposed to offer the farmers' a fair price with complete transparency. Still, the system on the ground compelled the farmers to accept whatever rates they are offered, as they cannot afford to hold the sale and/or take them back due to a lack of storage facilities, as that would incur additional costs (Vicziany and Plahe, 2017). ...
Purpose This study aims to formulate a conceptual sustainable framework for developing a trusted, reliable, scalable, transparent, traceable and sustainable agri-food supply chain in a developing country so that it minimizes wastage and increases the efficiency levels of agri-produce and its usage. Design/methodology/approach This study uses a rigorous review of extant literature, case studies and the interview method for theory building, using blockchain technology (BT) as a subject. Further, the study builds a framework to relate blockchain solutions to the challenges faced by the agri-supply chain. Notably, the use of BT in the agri-food supply chain is a relatively new area of study. Findings Limitations of using BT 3.0 in a diverse supply chain like the food sector, especially in a developing country such as India, may be overcome by adopting BT 4.0 and could change the country’s face by controlling inefficiencies and ensuring transparency, helping in good governance, improving the humanitarian supply chain and integrating the bottom of the pyramid to the main economy. Based on the findings, this study proposes BT 4.0 for the agri-supply chain in India to deal with the current issues of demand-supply gap, wastages of agri-produce, unequal distribution of profit among agriproduct producers and logistics suppliers and ensuring sustainability. Research limitations/implications Results in this study have been derived from a specific demographic condition in India. Future research with other demographic conditions may be replicated. BT is a new technology product, and its effectiveness is yet to be established. Practical implications The outcome of this study provides the application of BT 4.0 in the area of the agri-food supply chain. The BT 4.0 framework has been developed on studying a few cases that either implemented BT or were in the testing phase. The benefits of the agri-food supply chain vis-à-vis its overall social well-being may be achieved on the successful implementation of the framework, despite existing complexities in the food supply chain. Further research on this subject may help the other dimensions of the complexity of adopting BT 4.0. Both practitioners and policymakers from developing countries can, therefore, use the findings of this study to analyze BT 4.0 and address the concerns of the agri-food supply chain. Originality/value This research paper has proposed a conceptual framework of BT 4.0, which is a completely new technology. It is fairly transparent, and therefore sustainable supply chain practices may be achieved easily.
... In SA, most arable and permanent croplands are lowlands situated at arid-and semi-arid zones and these have higher potentiality for increasing agricultural productivity (Devendra 2012;Tolentino and Tolentino 2019). Though intensive monocrop cultivation particularly rice is more prevalent in lowlands, integrated cropping systems and different mixed farming approaches should be adopted by the farmers to improve the biodiversity (Viczianya and Plahe 2017) and to maintain agroecology which ultimately increases food production as well as whole resource efficiencies. Now it is established that if rice is grown along with Alzola, fish, duck, and/or other boarder plants in a complex agroecosystem, it will reduce the application of external inputs but augment the production of rice and other components of the system and the farmers' income along with the empowerment of farming family (Xie et al. 2011;Khumairoh et al. 2012;Liang et al. 2012;Long et al. 2013). ...
... Food sovereignty is also a vital context to directly improve the food safety and its sustainability and it can be attained by considering food sovereignty strategies such as localization of food production by allowing the involvement of the producers in innovations because they know the micro-environment in which the crops are grown, avoidance of dependency on international market and trades and improvement of immunity of populations (Lecomte 2012;Viczianya and Plahe 2017). Hence, agroecology is an approach to maintain diversified agroecosystems and this is the vital time to choose the suitable strategy for ecological resource management of SA for sustainable agricultural productivity which results in long-term benefits and food security to the poor populations. ...
Full-text available
The global population are approaching to 10 billion by the year 2050, therefore to encounter the food security of the increasing population it has been anticipated that production of food must be improved by 70%. Despite more food production and increasing the poverty level are the foremost difficulties to fulfil the nutrition and food demand for the emerging world. At the same time, climate change creates a great barrier to improve agricultural productivity. It has been recognized and proved that traditional agricultural practices do not reduce the rural poverty and degradation of the ecosystem. Food production systems are not always environmentally friendly and cost-benefit depends on imbalanced use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Therefore, it is indispensable to expand environmentally friendly technologies for sustaining crop yield. Earlier evidence proved that under the future changing climate, the food demand for the growing people across the globe can be only attained through the management of agroecology; since it emphasizes on resource conservation farming practices, reworking small farm enterprises, the participation of more farmers, traditional knowledge of the farming community, improved plant genetic multiplicity, and avoid to use of imbalanced synthetic pesticides and manures. The chapter focuses on the sustainable agroecological based crop production systems without hindering the agroecological environment for the nourishment of the growing population particularly in emerging nations of South Asia under changing climate.
... Some related issues are the impact of air pollution on health status, the nature of agricultural constraints, the role of agriculture, quality of life, and the support systems for addressing the farmers' issues. Vicziany and Plahe (2017) explained why conventional information a critical topic in the study of Indian agriculture is, particularly given the crisis looked at by the small and marginal farmers. The issues faced by the small farmers both outside and inside India were recorded on various parts of the advantages that can be derived from the aptitudes of farmers and local information, however, these don't generally mean organic farming. ...
Full-text available
Progress in Population Geography, 2016-2021
... This coupled with declining resilience towards wildlife and less dependence on native plants for food or nutritional supplement, often lead to the complete removal of RV in and around farmlands. India currently has an estimated 110 million Ha of agricultural area with RV which, if properly managed, can support considerable biodiversity in agroecosystems despite the alarming habitat loss threatening the country's natural heritage, help to achieve India's 'Conference Of the Parties -21' and Sustainable Development Goals by increased carbon sink and sustainable agriculture, enhance food security and secure traditional knowledge which otherwise may be lost over time (15,57). ...
Full-text available
This paper evaluated the structure of remnant vegetation (RV) in and around the farmlands of Kancheepuram District, Tamil Nadu of Southern India, to understand its significance in the local ecosystem. Stratified quadrats along nine randomly selected transects were used for sampling vegetation. The study recorded 2495 specimens of 96 plant species under 43 families in 1848 quadrats (88 of 10 m × 10 m, 352 of 5 m × 5 m and 1408 of 1 m × 1 m dimensions) while there was a possibility of recording more species with better sampling efforts. To know the ethnobotanical uses of plants, interviews were conducted with local villagers and people belonging to the Irula tribe, and later the data were collated with published information. Sixty -six plant species were recorded with traditional uses in food, fodder, fuel, condiment and medicine. Prosopis juliflora, an alien invasive species, was a serious threat to the native flora since higher P. juliflora abundance was associated with declining diversity of other plants. The study found that the absence of monitoring and management protocols leading to uncontrolled propagation of invasive species could cause potential damage to the region’s dry evergreen forests, which were often located near the farmlands.
... In extending the context in which to understand the benefits and limitations of Co-viSelf, we have drawn on our own research published in peer-reviewed international journals and books. Vicziany has published on the poverty and marginalisation of Dalits (former 'untouchables') [60], the family planning program [61,62], food security [63][64][65], Koli villages in Mumbai [66] and rural health [29,43,47], including work on the potential of point-of-care blood testing in villages [29,43]. Hardikar has reported extensively on questions of rural poverty, co-authored work with Vicziany on poor farmers, agriculture and health [29,43] and has published two books on India's farming crisis [30,67]. ...
Full-text available
This paper evaluates India’s first officially approved self-administered rapid antigen test kit against COVID-19, a device called CoviSelf. The context is rural India. Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are currently popular in situations where vaccination rates are low, where sections of the community remain unvaccinated, where the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow and where easy or timely access to RTPCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) testing is not an option. Given that rural residents make up 66% of the Indian population, our evaluation focuses on the question of whether this self-administered RAT could help protect villagers and contain the Indian pandemic. CoviSelf has two components: the test and IT (information technology) parts. Using discourse analysis, a qualitative methodology, we evaluate the practicality of the kit on the basis of data in its instructional leaflet, reports about India’s ‘digital divide’ and our published research on the constraints of daily life in Indian villages. This paper does not provide a scientific assessment of the effectiveness of CoviSelf in detecting infection. As social scientists, our contribution sits within the field of qualitative studies of medical and health problems. Self-administered RATs are cheap, quick and reasonably reliable. Hence, point-of-care testing at the doorsteps of villagers has much potential, but realising the benefits of innovative, diagnostic medical technologies requires a realistic understanding of the conditions in Indian villages and designing devices that work in rural situations. This paper forms part of a larger project regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in rural India. A follow-up study based on fieldwork is planned for 2022–2023.
... Customary food habits are based on the indigenous knowledge of the community, which is in sync with the cultural norms or dietary practices. Traditional knowledge surrounding food cultivation and nutrition promotes the sustainable conservation of biodiversity, which further assures food security for the local population (Vicziany and Plahe 2017). However, due to changing dietary habits around the world and the demand for functional foods, more people are returning to traditional diets. ...
Full-text available
Food choices are influenced by a myriad factors, ranging from socioeconomic to socio-cultural. Socio-cultural influences, in particular, are neglected at the policy-formation stage, hampering implementation among the target population. A culturally diverse region, Chandigarh is home to varied communities including Jats, Sikhs, Gujjars, Rajputs, and migrant groups. Hence, analyzing collective food and dietary patterns from a socio-cultural perspective helps us understand the underlying social relations that affect food choices as well as nutritional security. We utilized data from this preliminary cross-sectional study i) to explore the impacts of socio-cultural and socio-ecological factors, and ii) to examine the impact of demographic and lifestyle factors on traditional food choices and eating practices. Using a mixed-methodology approach-with a sample of 70 respondents, of which 15 were also interviewed in-depth-we identified that social and cultural norms, besides ecological factors, significantly influence dietary habits. However, demographics relating to age and gender have no significant influence on traditional food practices. Therefore, it is crucial to integrate value-based and culturally acceptable foods so as to transition to sustainable eating habits and an evidence-based, inclusive food security policy.
This article discusses the living law which stands behind the Lubuk Larangan tradition in Jambi, Indonesia. While many academics stand on belief that Lubuk Larangan is about the conservation, the article argues there is a metaphysical belief and sacred agreement that triggers such conservation by the indigenous people. Such belief has been overlooked by academics resulting in the failure of seeing the very fundamental life of the indigenous people, as long as their legal practice is concerned. This article demonstrates that the customary law norms can be found in the customary seloko of Jambi Malay, norm which is reflected the whole lives of the indigenous people, both in private and public lives. This article found that the tradition demonstrates a communal way of living and togetherness based on the need of the community. The natural conservation is nothing but the reflection of the sacred, mystic, religious adat and law to keep the nature survive
The 125 km2 East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) is not only the world’s largest wastewater fed aquaculture site but also a Ramsar recognized eco-diversity zone. The EKW, comprising of multiple water-bodies, interspersed with cultivable land and human settlements, came into existence in the early twentieth century from an interaction between the then newly established wastewater disposal system of the city of Kolkata and the large salt lakes that once existed in the region. The wastewater solids being let into the natural salt-water marshes transformed them into captive water-bodies by cutting them off from the tidal creeks joining the ocean. Local traders converted some of these shallow wetlands by around 1930-s into fish farming ponds fed by wastewater after appropriate treatment. Since then these water-bodies have not only provided livelihood opportunities to several marginalized groups, it has helped to meet a bulk of the city’s fish requirement. The area has also developed into a unique ecosystem sheltering a wide variety of flora which acts as a green lung to the city. For the past couple of decades, however, land encroachment for real estate has threatened the biodiversity of this region. Further, the younger generation of the farming community has largely shifted to other professions, leading to a decline in the wastewater-fed fish farming activities. The paper thus attempts to evaluate the benefits of the wetlands vis-à-vis concerns like the possible uptake of harmful elements by the fish population. The benefits, nevertheless, are seen to outweigh the disadvantages and the EKW appears to emerge as a model for a low-cost, ecologically sustainable bio-treatment plant of wastewater in an era when low-energy, low-impact developments are being vigorously promoted to counter global warming and climate change adversities.
With approximately 9% of the world population and 14% of India’s population.
Full-text available
The cultural and historical dimensions of rural lives matter. However, development practitioners and writings tend to play down these aspects. This article demonstrates the significance of oral history in revealing the meanings of women smallholders’ millet-based foodways in southern India. It argues that women farmers’ cultural practices around food constitute fundamental ‘capabilities’ nurtured over a long historical duration, and are essential to any meaningful articulation of ‘development’. Drawing on age-old spiritual beliefs and practices involving non-human entities, the women demonstrate fine-tuned skills in nurturing seeds and growing crops, in preparing and cooking food, and in discerning food tastes, particularly in relation to the local staple ragi , or finger millet. They also express their creativity in the joys of performing songs and farming rituals linked to the agricultural cycle. In this way, cultural capabilities express significant dimensions of women's agency exercised in the intimately related spheres of food and farming. Oral history thus emerges as a research method capable of generating insights into concrete manifestations of culture over a significant historical duration, one that is particularly conducive to reclaiming the voices and life experiences of subaltern groups such as women smallholders who are either not heard or are marginalized in written contemporary and historical documentary records.
Full-text available
A challenge for African countries is how to integrate new sources of knowledge on plant genetics with knowledge from farmer practice to help improve food security. This paper considers the knowledge content of farmer seed systems in the light of a distinction drawn in artificial intelligence research between supervised and unsupervised learning. Supervised learning applied to seed systems performance has a poor record in Africa. The paper discusses an alternative – unsupervised learning supported by functional genomic analysis. Recent work in West Africa on sorghum, African rice and white yam is described. Requirements for laboratory‐based analytical support are outlined. A science‐backed 'farmer first' approach – while feasible – will require a shift in policy and funding by major investors.
Full-text available
This article describes how farmers of Burkina Faso predict seasonal rainfall and examines how their forecasts relate to those produced by meteorological science. Farmers' forecasting knowledge encompasses shared and selective repertoires. Most farmers formulate expectations from observation of natural phenomena. Cultural and ritual spiritualists also predict rainfall from divination, visions, and dreams. Rather than positing local and scientific knowledge as self-exclusive, our research shows that farmers operate in multiple cognitive frameworks. Moreover, they are interested in receiving scientific information because they perceive local forecasts as becoming less reliable as a result of increasing climate variability. Some aspects of local forecasting knowledge, such as those stressing the relationship between temperatures, wind, and rainfall, can help explain meteorology-based forecasts. But significant discordance remains between scientific and local forecasts. The former predict total rainfall quantity at a regional scale, whereas the latter stress rainfall duration and distribution and are more attuned to crop-weather interactions. Local systems of thought stress the relationship between knowledge and social responsibility. This emphasizes the need for scientists to integrate information dissemination projects with efforts to improve farmers' capacity to respond to forecasts and to cope with suboptimal climate impacts.
The State of Food Insecurity in the World (Rome: The Food and Agriculture Organization
  • Ifad Fao
  • Wfp
FAO, IFAD, WFP, The State of Food Insecurity in the World (Rome: The Food and Agriculture Organization, 2015), Table A1 p. 46 [, accessed 29 Oct. 2016].
Constructing Agrarian Alternatives: How a Creative Dissent Project Engages with the Vulnerable Livelihood Conditions of Marginal Farmers in South India
  • Paul Richards
Paul Richards et al., 'Seed Systems for African Food Security: Linking Molecular Genetic Analysis and Cultivator Knowledge in West Africa', in International Journal of Technology Management, Vol. 45, no. 1/2 (2009), p. 198. 76. This section is based on Julia Quartz, 'Constructing Agrarian Alternatives: How a Creative Dissent Project Engages with the Vulnerable Livelihood Conditions of Marginal Farmers in South India', PhD thesis, Universiteit Maastricht, Maastricht, 2011, pp. 57-62.