ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Whose Knowledge Counts?

India as a Reluctant Leader in Agroecological Research

Beyond the obvious claims of evidence-based research policy is the lesser-questioned claim of what qualifies as evidence. This requires an understanding of the politics of knowledge and examining knowledge claims made both for and against any particular innovation. Through the case of a specific agroecological innovation, the System of Rice Intensification in India, the barriers to a sustainable transition from a green revolution to an agroecological paradigm that reveals path dependence on certain agricultural futures—such as the New Plant Type or genetic transformation in rice—are highlighted.

Some of the research for this paper was carried out as part of a Fulbright–Nehru fellowship in 2013–14 at Cornell University. I thank Lucy Fisher and Norman Uphoff, and the SRI Rice family for their hospitality, conversations, arguments and access to SRI Rice archives that made this possible. Some of the ideas in the paper were presented both at Cornell and in conferences since and I thank participants for their useful feedback.

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in India has an unusual and complex journey involving collaboration and co-creation of knowledge with Indian scientists interacting with a broader set of actors, including farmers, and civil society organisations (CSOs). The paper argues that beyond the international scientific controversy on SRI there is indeed a case for opening up the politics of knowledge in research pathways to enable newer agricultural futures. Surprisingly, despite the absence of any official research policy supporting agroecological approaches, India has become a world leader in research on SRI.

The Indian scientific establishment has been involved in exercises to articulate future visions through technology foresight or scenario planning in recent times. Grand vision statements in documents such as the India Technology Vision 2035 (see Sekhsaria and Thayyil in this issue) reveal technological optimism that make a case for the inevitability in the development of particular technologies. The future of science and technology (S&T), following traditions of evolutionary economics, is seen as the result of a linear or naturally-evolving process (Nelson and Winter 2002). In contrast, scholars from the discipline of science, technology and society studies (STS) see the future as always uncertain and plural. Futures are actively created in the present and occupy a contested terrain through claims and counterclaims. There is a distinction between looking into the future, as represented by technology vision statements, and looking at the future as a temporal abstraction that is constructed and managed under specific conditions (Brown et al 2000: 5). This paper extends this consideration of contested futures to discussions on agriculture in India (Brown and Webster 2000; Visvanathan 2002).

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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