Monday, April 27, 2020

Sustainability Case Studies Chapter 13: Small Land Holding in Karnataka, India

Small farms in Karnataka, India.
Click for photo credit.
This is the 13th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

The 13th chapter of the volume, titled Methods for Integrated Sustainability Assessment:  The Case of Small Holder Farming in Karnataka, South India, by Sheetal Patil and Seema Purushothaman, examines the role of small farming, and associated benefits, within the overall agricultural system present in India. Over the last few decades, India has moved heavily into the tenets of the green revolution which promotes the use of technological advances in agriculture over traditional farming. The green revolution promotes the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and new seed varieties to enhance production. While there is no doubt that the green revolution has contributed significantly to India's ability to be more agriculturally self sufficient, there is concern that many small farmers are falling behind as India's agriculture becomes more aligned with the globalization of agriculture.

A sugarcane farmer in Karnataka, India.
Click for photo caption.
As the article notes, small farmers have not seen the same benefits of the green revolution as large farmers. Even though the small farmers are often far more efficient than the larger farmers, they do not receive the same financial gains. Indeed, the situation for small farmers in India has been rather grim. Many small farmers in the author's study area of Karnataka have committed suicide as they saw their livelihoods disappear in the face of growing agribusiness in the region. The governments have reacted by trying to put value in agricultural practices that are traditional and organic.

Nevertheless, as the article points out, many of the larger companies involved with agribusiness, such as fertilizer companies, are heavily subsidized by state and national governments. This leaves the small land holders struggling with trying to keep their operations afloat. The article reviews a series of quantitative and qualitative ways that agriculture in Karnataka can be assessed from a sustainability lens. I will not go into the details here, but suffice it to say that the authors provide a unique review of how to better assess sustainability of agriculture that take into account the unique issues associated with small farmers.  The chapter concludes with a list of lessons learned that anyone involved with local agricultural planning would find useful.

Click here to for more information about the book.

Here are some discussion questions that can be used when using this chapter in a lesson on agriculture and sustainability.

1. Where is Karnataka, India?

2. Why did farmers in the region commit suicide in such numbers?

3. What is the green revolution? How did the green revolution impact small land holders in India?

4. How does agribusiness and the globalized food system impact farmers in your area?

5. As the authors point out, national and state policy focuses heavily on agribusiness even though there is strong verbal support for sustainable agriculture. Why do you think state or national policies around food do not match stated state or national sustainable agricultural goals?

6. Which level of government do you think understands the plight of small farmers the most (national, state, or local)? Why?

7. What is bio-physical modeling in the context of assessing agriculture? Why is it important?

8. The state of Karnataka has published some sustainability goals. How do they support a drive for sustainable agriculture in the region?

Previous posts in this series:

Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice:  The Case of Flint Michigan
Chapter 6. Sustainable Renewable Energy:  The Case of Burlington, Vermont
Chapter 7. Greenhouse Gas Management: A Case Study of a Typical American City
Chapter 9. Waste Management Outlook for the Middle East

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