Thursday, 26 February 2015

Interview: CARIAA Young Researchers


Filling up a monitoring form for a medicinal plant nursery in
Keylong, Himachal Pradesh (2008). 
Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) is an IDRC and DFID funded project working on building resilience of vulnerable populations in vulnerability hotspots. As part of their series on young researchers working on climate change issues, I was interviewed by IDRC. The interview, Raising awareness about climate risk, adaptation in South Asia covers my motivations behind doing climate adaptation research and the journey that led me to become part of the ambitious and exciting CARIAA project. Read it here.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ecological restoration as an adaptation to climate variability: reflections from a visit to Navadarshanam


It's been three months into my new job as a postdoctoral researcher working on a multi-country, multidisciplinary project called Adaptation at Scale in Semi-arid Regions (ASSAR). The journey has been an exciting and challenging experience so far. In a recent blog, I documented my research team's visit to Navadarshanam and discussed how perhaps scaling up niche adaptation interventions may take away from the principles and processes that make them successful in the first place.

Navadarshanam is a peaceful farm on the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Do pay them a visit if you're around!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Integrated landscape management in Asia: who participates,who doesn't?

Till recently, I was working on a Global Review of Integrated Landscape Initiatives with Bioversity International and the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative. As part of the Asia review, we surveyed 166 landscape initiatives in South and Southeast Asia to get a better idea of what works in integrated landscape management and what doesn't. From the Bioversity website:
Integrated landscape management is increasingly gaining attention as a way to understand and address the complex and interconnected goals of agricultural production, ecological conservation, and livelihood improvement. Working at the landscape level means engaging with different actors at different levels, often with competing motivations. Bringing multiple actors together to initiate dialogue, facilitate participatory decision-making, and enable conflict resolution can be extremely rewarding, but is also challenging and time and resource intensive.
Building upon these findings, I wrote a post on the WLE Agriculture & Ecosystems Blog on how private sector stakeholders are still missing from multiple stakehoder processes in integrated landscape projects in Asia. The full blog post - The Private Sector: The least involved in landscape initiatives is here

A high altitude mountain landscape in Lahual, Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Chandni Singh

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Book Review: Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World

I just finished reading Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World by Helena Norberg-Hodge. It is strange that it is only now that I finally read this masterpiece; six years since I first went to Ladakh and began my journey of academic inquiry and personal growth. Ladakh was the place I discovered my love for ethnographic study and found the inspiration to undertake a PhD. Ladakh was the place I stood up to a corrupt Goba (village head) to support a women's Self Help Group I had closely worked with. Ladakh was the place I began understanding that the journey is the destination. But even if Ladakh was not such an integral part of my growth, I would still have been very sorry to miss Ancient Futures.

Drawing on decades of ethnographic work starting in the 1970s, when Ladakh was first 'opened' to tourists, Norberg-Hodge starts by painting an evocative picture of the social contentment and ecological harmony in traditional Ladakhi communities. It is so palpable that at first, she suspected that the smiling faces and cheerful communal work was a well-orchestrated lie. Acutely conscious of her perceptions coloured by a mechanistic worldview, Norberg-Hodge takes time to immerses herself in the Ladakhi life and as a result, skilfully discusses how religion, social norms, communal bonds, and environmental dependence made Ladakhis a content and sustainable community.

In the second half of the book, she turns witness to the recent inroads 'development' has made in Ladakh - from stories of shrinking families and severed social ties to shifts towards commercial (and unsustainable) agriculture, from incidences of previously unheard diseases like depression and obesity to increasing communal conflict in this largely peaceful land. Most importantly, she captures something I have witnessed across rural India - the alarming crisis around erosion of identity and shame over one's traditions as inferior when compared to the West. She holds that 'modernisation' (as defined and perpetuated by movies, advertisements and media) is often coveted without a clear understanding of the side-effects such a developmental model has spawned in the West.

Reeling from this dismal picture, the third section of the book offers a ray of hope. Here, Norberg-Hodge talks about various initiatives in Ladakh that are providing alternatives to the current top-down, infrastructure-heavy modes of progress. She elaborates on 'counter-development' a paradigm through which she envisions informing communities about the implications of the Western development model and working towards ecologically-sound, culturally attuned and autonomous development.

Religious sanction, communal norms, and ancient traditions collude to make life in Ladakh's resource constrained land inherently sustainable.
Long before 'bottom-up development' and 'climate-smart agriculture' became a fad, Ladakh's rural communities were practicing ecologically
sustainable agriculture and locally governed and managed their lives.     
Whether or not you know (or want to know) Ladakh, Ancient Futures is a book to read. Whether or not you are studying development and its discourses, Ancient Futures is an incredible read. If you have ever questioned the ease with which the allure of the West subsumes your own culture and identity, wondered about ecological sustainability and whether is is even possible in this day and age, toyed with metaphysical issues around contentment and happiness, Ancient Futures is a stimulating read.

For those interested, you can watch a documentary based on the book here and a TEDx talk by Helena Norberg-Hodge here

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Link Pack: Sustainable intensification in agriculture

Blog: Ian Scoones writes about the latest buzzword in agriculture 'sustainable intensification' (SI) and whether it can help address global food security. 

Paper: In a recent paper, Loos et al. (2014) critique the current definition of SI and highlight the need to look at issues of equity (who gains what?) and individual empowerment (to secure food). They conclude that in it's current framing, SI is a 'a vaguely defined global vision' that needs 'revisiting earlier, regionally grounded, bottom-up approaches'. Importantly, the paper also highlights the need for maintaining the multi-functionality of agro-ecosystems if SI has to be sustainable. All in all, a crucial reading for those interested in agricultural intensification and farming systems research. 


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Researcher’s social capital: Liaising with local actors for effective ethnographic research

Having a good relationship with a local NGO helped me participate in several
events not strictly related to my research. Seen above, women dancing on
Women's Day to kill time before the formal event began. They sang local songs,
spun in giddy circles and all in all entertained everyone around!
The doing of research is something that is very close to my heart and a subject I have not adequately touched upon in this blog. In an interdisciplinary field like mine that draws upon rural development, natural resource management, and climate change science, I have experimented with and relied upon several methods for collecting data. During my PhD fieldwork, I drew on my experience working with an NGO, to gain access to and acceptance in the community I was conducting my research in. And I realised that just as in any other endeavour, building networks, investing in relationships beyond the strict confines dictated by professional boundaries, and collecting data like 'branches to build my nest' (in the words of my supervisor) helped tremendously.

In a post at LSE's Field Research Blog, I elaborate on some of these points and discuss how liaising with local actors can help build a researcher's social capital and thus facilitate effective ethnographic research

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Link Pack: ICTs for climate change adaptation (among other things)

Paper:  Linking ICTs and Climate Change Adaptation: A Conceptual Framework for e-­Resilience and e-­Adaptation by Ospina and Heeks (2010) is a fascinating read. The authors put forth a framework to explore how ICTs can enhance individual adaptive capacities and contribute to the overall adaptation process. The paper also introduced me to 'ICT4CCA' which stands for Information and Communication Technologies for Climate Change Adaptation. Quite a mouthful but wildly interesting nevertheless! 

Book: I've just started reading Professor Sumit Guha's latest book 'Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present' as a way to educate myself with the multiple histories that shape caste in India. From the blurb I quote "'caste' should be understood as a politically inflected and complex form of ethnic stratification that persisted across religious affiliations". A review will be out soon!

Video: Lifelines is a beautiful video made by researchers at Oxford's School of Geography and the Environment which captures the intricacies of how rural-urban migration, unemployment, livelihoods and development mesh together to mould personal aspirations and fortunes in Uttarakhand, India. 

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