Agrarian Environments in India

 

Introduction

Over the past decade, an incipient yet growing body of climate change research has begun to synthesize insights from environmental studies and development studies (Ayers & Dodman, 2010). A leading paradigm within this synthesis is the human security approach to global environmental change. Contributions to the latter have addressed how the effects of global environmental change are filtered through the interaction of economic, social, institutional, political, cultural and technological processes (Barnett & Adger, 2007). In particular, by reframing environmental change as an issue of human security, the approach has sought to guide the formulation of appropriate and effective adaptation options towards a more equitable public policy approach that can address both poverty and vulnerability simultaneously (Eriksen & O’Brien, 2007).

With specific reference to agrarian environments, this article assesses the ability of the human security paradigm to provide a unifying framework for understanding the dynamics of climate change adaptation. In its concern for foreground equity issues, researcher argue that the approach helps steer debates towards essential issues of inequality and power in an era in which anthropocentric climate change has aggravated existing socio-ecological stresses. However, while the perspective poses many of the right questions, it currently provides only a partial set of tools with which to answer them. To address this gap, researcher argue that a stronger incorporation of political ecology can facilitate a closer analysis of the links between vulnerability, inequality and power that lie at the core of the paradigm.

This argument is concretized through examples of human insecurity drawn from semi-arid Andhra Pradesh in southern India. The analysis emphasizes how the relative vulnerability of households to climatic variability in this context is strongly conditioned by the uneven control over key productive assets such as land, water, and labored credit. In focusing on the power relationships through which subordinate social groups are adversely incorporated within unequal social, economic and political relations, the article offers a more finely graded perspective on how the essential insecurities of agrarian life are distributed in a hierarchical manner.

Human security and global environmental change

Within international development circles, the human security perspective became increasingly influential during the 1990s, with the milestone 1994 UNDP Human Development Report often regarded as a paradigm shifting publication. This document called for a new ‘people-centered’ development paradigm in which the question of security could be translated into that of ‘human security’ (UNDP, 1994). Strongly influenced by Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach, the paradigm encouraged public policy and development assistance to be directed towards enabling individuals to develop their capabilities so as to more fully participate in the processes and events that shape their lives (Sen, 1985; UNDP, 1994). Given its increasing presence in academic and policy circles, the human security concept was soon incorporated into debates over environmental change in general, and climate change in particular. With respect to the latter, the human security approach has been defined in opposition to two dominant tendencies. On the one hand, mainstream security perspectives often frame climate change as a threat to national security owing to its potential to disrupt political, economic and social stability. Human security scholars rightly contest this by arguing that ‘securitizing’ climate change tends to categorize those most affected by climate change effects as potential threats, therein compounding their vulnerability (Barnett, 2003; Barnett & Adger, 2007; Barnett, Matthew, & O’Brien, 2010). Simultaneously, human security scholars critique approaches to climate change adaptation that focus on technical solutions to potential environmental hazards (O’Brien, Eriksen, Nygaard, & Schojolden, 2007).

The concept of human security as applied to climate change serves a double purpose that it has inherited from the literature on human security and global environmental change. First, it operates as a heuristic device to orientate empirical studies on climate change effects and the relative adaptive capacity of different social groups that can foreground questions of equity (Gasper, 2010). Karen O’Brien (2006, p. 2) puts this succinctly:

To reframe environmental change as an issue of human security involves asking some very relevant questions about equity, justice, vulnerability, power relations, and in particular, questions about whose security is actually threatened by environmental change. This line of enquiry has been facilitated by the incorporation of core concepts from disaster and famine studies, including the notions of vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Human security scholars have pointed to the differentiated effects of environmental change upon households, communities and social groups that express existing social cleavages including gender, ethnicity, age and class. This leads to a disaggregated conceptualization of vulnerability, which describes a situation in which an individual, household or community lacks the necessary adaptive capacity to adjust to shocks or hazards in a way that maintains livelihoods and other social functions (Adger, 2006; Barnett & Adger, 2007).

Vulnerability is therefore related to, but distinct from, poverty, with the latter described as a condition in which mutually reinforcing social, economic and political processes undermine the capability of households to achieve valued goals, such as secure employment and self-respect (Eriksen & O’Brien, 2007; Sen, 1999). This important analytical separation avoids collapsing the two conditions into each other: the poorest members of society are not necessarily the most vulnerable and vice versa, yet the two conditions are frequently mutually reinforcing. In the context of climate change, human security is attained when individuals and communities have the capacity to manage stresses to their needs, rights and values, and therein minimize their vulnerability to adverse climate change effects while simultaneously expanding their capabilities to improve welfare (Barnett et al., 2010; Eriksen & O’Brien et al., 2007).

The work within the human security and environmental change paradigm tends to identify the centrality of power and inequality without providing clear analytical tools with which to analyses them. This disjuncture tends towards a focus on how inequalities between social groups feed into different levels of vulnerability and coping capacity without necessarily providing a substantive analysis of their underlying causes. Victoria Basolo (2010). An interrogation of vulnerability to extreme weather among urban slum dwellers by Laura Little and Chris Cocklin (2010) maps the vectors of vulnerability without considering the political economy of why urbanization in this specific form is occurring and the power relations that reproduce such uneven control over urban space. An insightful cartography of urban inequality is therefore provided without a correlate analysis of its causative dimensions.

As paper elaborate below, this perspective allows us to go beyond understanding vulnerability in terms of inequality, in which different social groups have differentiated capacity to respond to environmental change. Instead, it allows us to see vulnerability at a deeper level as a function of social relationships, i.e. the ways in which marginalized peoples are adversely incorporated into political, social and economic relationships that produce their vulnerability while simultaneously creating relative security for others (Mosse, 2007). On these grounds, vulnerability becomes a dynamic relational category, and this shift has important implications for public policy. Relational vulnerability in agrarian environments While there are varied and contrasting streams within political ecology, a common concern of the field has been to interrogate how vulnerability is produced and reproduced within overlapping structures of power that operate at different spatial scales (Blaikie, 1994; Bohle, Downing, & Watts, 1994).

The reticence of human security authors to more closely align with political ecology may result from justified concerns regarding the structuralist tendencies of the earlier contributions (for a self-critique, see Blaikie, 1997). However, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The purpose of integrating political ecology into the conceptualization of human security is to achieve a better balance between identifying the symptoms of vulnerability and addressing their underlying causes. This task is particularly important when we consider climate change adaptation in agrarian environments because the latter regularly display deep-rooted inequalities in control over key productive resources, such as land, water, labor and credit. Failure to systematically integrate these factors into the analysis of vulnerability creates an uneven explanatory paradigm that can obscure some of the central determinants of human (in) security. Consider, for example, O’Brien and Leichenko’s (2007) account of agrarian vulnerability under conditions of climate change and economic liberalization in rural southern India and South Africa. Their approach carefully notes the ways in which these policy shifts and environmental changes create very differing risks and opportunities between social groups based on the existing inequalities of assets and opportunities. To this end, the authors advise that a range of governmental and non-governmental institutional supports ranging from crop-storage infrastructure to marketing aids alongside more robust public provisioning are vital to ensure that both large and small farmers are able to adapt to climatic change.

Climate change, debt and vulnerability in semi-Arid Andhra Pradesh

Even though as a region of repeated drought sensitive area, around 60% of the population are increase their livelihoods directly or indirectly from agriculture sector, the semi-arid areas of Andhra Pradesh are likely to be one of the epicenters of climate change impact. state’s climatic record over the past four decades suggest that climate change effects are already being experienced through increasing overall temperatures, more variable and extreme rainfall patterns and an increasing severity of drought (Lambrou & Nelson, 2010). Rate of changing temperatures lead to deteriorating agro climatic conditions, with declining yields for the major crops like as rice, groundnut etc. In the crucial climate change scenarios, farm incomes could decline by 20 percent, suggest that currently practice agriculture may not able to sustaining of large population from small rain fed farms.

To understand the full dynamics of this environmental shift, however, these hydro climatic trends must be situated within the broader political economy of agrarian change in the region. While providing potential windfalls for successful farmers, the implementation of input-intensive commercial agriculture by smallholder farms in semi-arid regions has amplified risks on a number of levels. On the one hand, it has created a stronger dependence on merchants and other commercial agents for both the purchase of inputs and the sale of outputs. As government subsidies have been consistently reduced the cost of these inputs increased markedly over the liberalization period (Reddy & Mishra, 2010, p. 246). A study by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, for example, noted that smallholders in Andhra spent around 35% of their total agricultural outlay on fertilizer and pesticides alone (Kumar et al., 2009). On the other hand, the mounting cost of inputs has increased the risks associated with crop loss stemming from climatic variability. It has placed a high premium on access to irrigation, which is necessary to ensure the success of the Green Revolution agricultural model, and this has resulted in a rampant overexploitation of groundwater sources (Taylor, 2013).

The adverse effects of climatic variability, such as drought, are therefore multiplied under these socio-ecological agricultural conditions. Within this context, the relational dynamics of credit, input and product markets are central to understanding the ensuing distribution of risks across the agrarian environment. Given the high costs of inputs, farmers habitually depend upon credit at the start of the season to purchase agricultural inputs that include seed, fertilizer and pesticides, but also potentially land rental and irrigation water. The sources of this credit are often merchants, landlords or moneylenders who tie their loans to other contracts, such as the future purchase of the producer’s crop at a time and price most advantageous to them (Harriss-White, 2008; Olsen, 1996; Reddy & Mishra, 2010). An expression of what is known as ‘interlocking markets’, such tied contracts serve three key purposes.

First, they act as a mechanism of surplus extraction. Interest rates on debts are frequently high, often in the range of 36–50% over a year, with the effect that debts are often never fully paid back but repeatedly rolled over to become an ongoing power relationship between the debtor and the creditor. Second, the extension of credit also serves to procure the future crop at a rate advantageous to the lender, who can exploit any differential with market prices at the end of the season. These debt relations are intimately intertwined with the social and ecological dynamics of the agrarian environment. On the one hand, taking on loans to rent extra land, purchase inputs, drill wells or settle existing consumption expenses appears as an immediate and necessary escape from the constraints placed on marginal households.

However, debt simultaneously functions as a core form of dependency, locking households into relations that provide a source of ongoing surplus extraction for the holders of capital. These relationships create the grounds. Farmer suicides in the Deccan region, 2003–2011.for escalating debt traps, where households take multiple, overlapping loans without any realistic expectation of being able to pay them off in the medium term (Gue´rin, Roesch, Venkatasubramanian, & Kumar, 2011). By the mid-2000s, over 80% of the state’s farmers held debts and virtually all small and marginal farmers were heavily indebted to both formal and informal sources (for villagelevel studies, see Kumar et al., 2009; Ramachandran, Rawal, & Swaminathan, 2010). As a result, the nexus of debt relations and environmental stress has combined to create an agrarian landscape marked by insidious human insecurity . This is most tragically manifested in a growing accumulation of farmer suicides that are the result of failed crops and insurmountable debt burdens (Deshpande & Arora, 2010; Reddy & Mishra, 2009 ; Vasavi, 2012).

In conditions of severely deficient rainfall, the increasingly desperate extraction of groundwater led to a depletion of the water table that undermined the wells that provide both irrigation and drinking water for villages across the region. In both Anantapur district in southwest Andhra Pradesh and Dharwad district in neighbouring Karnataka the scarcity of water undermined the production of fodder for cattle. This left smallholders that had invested in such assets unable to grow or purchase enough fodder to feed them, a deficit that had been exacerbated by a shift of cultivation into groundnuts, which produce very little plant material that can serve as fodder.

Opening up the policy debate on sustainable adaptation What, then, might sustainable adaptation to climate change and human security mean in this socio-ecological landscape where the insecurity of households is embedded in a broad spectrum of power relations that condition household livelihoods? Given that the relational character of vulnerability within agrarian environments creates overlapping and contrary interests, there are no simple answers, only diverse political challenges. Focusing on vulnerability as a dynamic and relational condition, however, does raise two important considerations for the pursuit of sustainable climate change adaptation. First, although many current development and adaptation measures are currently silent on questions of power, they nonetheless can have important unintended effects on such relations, with both positive and negative outcomes for marginal groups.

Consider, for example, the recent flagship rural development programme implemented by the newly elected Congress Government of India in 2005: the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The intention of this rights-based approach, which provides each rural household the right to one hundred days paid labour at the prevailing minimum wage on projects implemented by the state government, was to provide a safety net to rural households facing drastic underemployment and distress migration in the countryside. Simultaneously, the types of works undertaken by the MGNREGA programs were synthesized with climate change adaptation strategies. A quarter of projects relate to water conservation and water harvesting; 14% relate to irrigation canals and renovation of traditional water bodies and 13% relate to flood protection and drought proofing (Ministry of Rural Development, 2012).

The results, however, have been uneven. Numerous critiques have been made of the program that highlight the prevalence of delayed payments for work, the paucity of the wages that in practice often fall below the minimum wage, the fixed limit of one hundred days per household, the lack of skill-building owing to the intense manual labour of the projects, the non-involvement of communities in planning and instances of significant corruption ( Mehta, Shepherd, Bhide, Shah, & Kumar, 2011). Moreover, the projects undertaken by the MGNREGA around watershed development are often left unfinished or have been inadequately completed, creating a legacy of failed wells and irrigation beset by functional inadequacies ( Mahapatra, Suchitra, & Moyna, 2011).