Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation

Date of Completion

January 2012


Anthropology, Cultural|Economics, Environmental|Agriculture, General|Environmental Studies|Sustainability




"Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation" investigates how, through conversion to organic agriculture, with its postulated socioeconomic, environmental and health benefits, and through biodiversity conservation, by, for example, creating community seed banks, local farming organizations enable and empower small farmers to become independent and self-sufficient. Local farming organizations are defined as movements to improve the economic, health, and social status of independent farmers in the face of global agribusiness through the adoption of sustainable agriculture. I explore the philosophy of these organizations; the agricultural and political ideas they transmit; the challenges they face in involving small farmers; and how farmers who become involved assess this experience. ^ Fieldwork for this study was carried out during 2007 and 2008 in the Indian states of Punjab, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. Living in villages in these states—approximately three months per state—I completed 89 in-depth and 16 focus group interviews with female and male farmers, and with the farming organizations' staff, for a total of 250 participants. Interviews and field observations, primarily those carried out in Punjab and Uttarakhand, constitute the data for this dissertation. ^ I found that farmers who get involved with these organizations do perceive that their food security is improved through conservation and the revival of traditional crops. Additionally their economic situation is strengthened with less expenditure on inputs such as seed, chemical pesticides, or mineral fertilizers. Finally, it is argued, training provided by these organizations prepares farmers, many of whom become more self-reliant and confident individuals, to stand up for their democratic rights in the midst of the formidable power of globalized corporate agriculture. ^ This study contributes to a growing understanding among small farmers, researchers and international human rights and farming-focused organizations (e.g., the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Food and Agriculture Organization), of how reinvestment in sustainable agriculture is vital to the realization of the right to food, and to rural economic development, issues that were accentuated by the 2008 global food price crisis and current return to a pattern of rising food prices that are reaching 2008 levels. ^