Managing Sustainable Transitions in Agriculture : Newer Directions for Research and Civic Action

Agriculture in India is facing multiple crises. Aside from the economic and social deficits, the transition to industrial Green Revolution agriculture has marked the rural worlds with a plethora of ecological problems. These include loss of biodiversity, depletion of groundwater, and soil erosion. All of these are compounded by the onset of climate change and its impact via extreme climate events of either floods or droughts and intensifying temperature. The high input Green Revolution model of agriculture has led to a burgeoning fertilizer subsidy bill[1], and led to the dilemma of increasing productivity while nutrition and food security have been sacrificed. These effects have been borne disproportionately by underprivileged socioeconomic groups across rural and urban India. The increasing numbers of landless and tenant cultivators, growing migration from Adivasi hinterlands, distress of pastoralists, fishers, artisans, as well as the recurrent protests by farmers across the country, show the fissures and failures of this model.

Given these trends, there have been calls for an alternate paradigm for informed action, broadly based on agroecology and an ecosystem view of production processes that goes beyond the existing narratives of ‘productivity and populism’. Farmers and civil society organisations are experimenting with alternatives on the ground, and the national as well as several state governments have pledged to support alternative paradigms, but there has been little sustained engagement by the academic community with these issues.

Transitioning towards an agroecological paradigm requires research that goes beyond conventional academic disciplinary boundaries. Engaged forms of multi- and transdisciplinary inquiry require investing in participatory and co-evolved processes. Networks like the Network of Rural and Agrarian Studies (NRAS) have sought to keep alive academic interest on agrarian alternatives in the last decade through a series of bi-annual conferences since 2010 across India to re-engage Indian academia on agrarian studies and undertaken initiatives of working with networks on the ground such as the longstanding Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture Network (RRAN), and recent initiatives such as the National Coalition for Natural Farming (NCNF) and the Small Farm Incomes project at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA).

Internationally, there have been active networks and research platforms exploring the nuances and contours of sustainability transitions and its different dimensions. Research across innovative niches, regimes and landscapes have recognized the need for both technical and social innovations and even social movements, to aid this transition towards sustainability in agriculture. However, the focus on agriculture and on emerging economies such as India has been missing in this emerging field.

The proposed conference on “Managing Sustainable Transitions in Agriculture: Newer Directions for Research and Civic Action” aims to bring together these diverse researchers and practitioners on a common platform. Our objective is to deepen conversations across disciplines and actors on various processes and practices to enable better articulation of a new paradigm for agrarian change in India that is both socially just and ecologically viable. The conference is proposed as a stock-taking of ongoing research, a way to bring together multiple streams across the natural and social sciences and as an opportunity to create a platform for deeper understanding and engagement that could seed a network of scholars engaged in articulating this alternative agroecological paradigm.