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Department of Geography


Agrarian change and rural transformations in India

The challenges of moving towards a sustainable and equitable agricultural system in a country as diverse as India are many and deep. How might these be studied and what are the spaces where meaningful intervention is possible as researchers? This presents the point of departure for our project, ‘Sustainable and Transformative Rural and Agrarian Strategies’ (START), a flagship project under the TIGR2ESS Programme. Being undertaken across a wide variety of locations – from the coasts of Tamil Nadu and the tanks sites of Telangana to the forested villages of Bihar and the irrigated plains of Punjab – this project reflects on some of the most pressing political economy and policy issues of agricultural development in India.

In our field research, we do this by actively engaging with, even foregrounding, the initiatives, knowledge and experience of agrarian and rural communities. Equally, we work with the understanding that such communities are internally differentiated and spatially diverse. Rural communities are widely accepted to be structured on the axes of class, caste, gender, ethnicity and/or religion. These manifest not only in the relations between households but also within households, especially in the case of gender. At the same time, the particular configuration of these axes vary by agro-ecological location, political and policy context and historical developments. The research seeks to understand the present and potential futures of agrarian lives and livelihoods in the context of these lived social and material realities of people.

The research seeks to channel the expertise of our interdisciplinary team – with members specialized in disciplines as diverse as political economy, sociology and agronomy – to open a new conversation about the future of agriculture in India. We aim to place our findings alongside major policy questions of the day. What are the societal choices that will inform agrarian change and rural transformations, and how will these be negotiated in India’s contemporary political economy? What should be the focus of the new agrarian ecosystem, and how should it balance the interests of farmers, agricultural labour, the food industry, distribution networks and supply chains, consumers and those involved in providing support services and inputs to this sector? How might different production systems, ranging from small-holder family farms to large-scale commercial production and including crops like paddy, millets and cotton, respond to these different needs and interests, of men and women, across generations? What is the relative importance of improving yields and efficiency, ensuring ecological sustainability, and ensuring equitable and inclusive outcomes that leave no one behind?

Agrarian change and rural transformations in India