Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Link Pack #8: 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 #7: 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. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

Shifting the discourse from adaptation to transformational adaptation

Shallow wells provide protective irrigation during in-season dry spells.
But these coping strategies may not work in an agricultural system that
is intensifying towards water-intensive cash crops. 
There is growing concern that climate change adaptation may have 'somehow lost its edge...lost its spunk and it became just another term for development'. My own research from Pratapgarh, a tribal-dominated rainfed region in Rajasthan, western India, showed that farmers mainly use short-term coping  that help them 'get by' rather than longer-term adaptive strategies that help build resilience to present and future risks. 

There is also a growing call for the need to move from 'mere' adaptation to transformational adaptation. Transformational adaptation places an emphasis on moving beyond coping to long-term sustainable change (on a temporal scale) and shifting from individual or local coping and adaptive strategies to making change across societies and economies (something researchers have said earlier too).

One of the key findings of my research on smallholder farmer vulnerability to water scarcity and climate change pointed to this precisely: there is only so much a farming family can do with individual coping strategies. Agricultural adaptation encompasses a wide range of options from various actors operating at, and embedded in, different scales. Thus, for farmers to 'successfully' adapt to increasing climate variability and future climatic change, they have to move beyond household coping. Such a transformation can only take place if farmers are able to utilise their ecological, social and institutional landscapes effectively and if these landscapes have characteristics conducive to transformational adaptation.

Further reading: 
  • Conceptualizing Transformational Adaptation by Pérez-Català, A. (2014) gives a basic introduction to key papers in a very readable post.   
  • In Informing adaptation responses to climate change through theories of transformationPark et al. (2012) give a comprehensive review of literature on transitions and transformation. 
  • Rickards and Howden (2012) present the debates around transformational adaptation nicely in their (open access!!) paper 'Transformational adaptation: agriculture and climate change'. The authors use case studies from Australian agriculture to explain the potential risks and gains posed by transformational adaptation and point towards the need for a systems-oriented thinking.