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How Smallholder Farmers in Uttarakhand Reworked the System of Rice Intensification: Innovations from Sociotechnical Interactions in Fields and Villages

200 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2015  

Debashish Sen

Wageningen University and Research Center (WUR), School of Social Sciences, Students

Date Written: December 4, 2015

Abstract

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is presented in Asia and other parts of the world as an alternative ‘agro-ecological’ and ‘farm-based’ innovation in rice production. SRI calls for modifications in crop-management practices without relying on external inputs, which makes it different from innovations based on new rice varieties, which became dominant since the Green Revolution. SRI practices are therefore said to be appropriate for resource-poor smallholder farmers.

Previous studies on SRI have focused mainly on the yield effects in comparison with other crop management practices, overall costs and benefits of SRI or deviations from recommended practices. These studies have largely neglected farmers’ underlying strategies. This thesis provides an understanding of whether and how SRI can be called a ‘farm-based’ innovation. Rather than returning to earlier debates about SRI's adoption and disadoption, the study looks as how farm households and communities in Western Himalayan region of India responded to the introduction of SRI.

The main objective of this research was to understand how farmers respond to an intervention like SRI and what this tells us about SRI as a socio-technical system. The main research question addressed by this thesis is how SRI, conceived as a set of practices introduced from outside the communities, was incorporated into the local rice farming system. Specifically, the thesis examines how existing work groups were adjusted to accommodate the new method, how the SRI practices were interpreted and adjusted to fit with the local social and agro-ecological arrangements, and how the new method influenced existing rice farming practices in the locality.

The research was carried out in three contrasting villages of Uttarakhand, located in the Bhilangana sub-basin of the Western Himalayan region of India. SRI was introduced in this area in 2008. Fieldwork in the three villages was conducted throughout two rice seasons.

The theoretical resources drawn upon for this research include the concept of “socio-technical system”, “agriculture as performance”, and the culture of “task groups”. Together these concepts help to understand rice farming as a collective and mutually shaping social and technical performance rather than the activity of an individual farmer. The thesis shows how existing and new rice farming practices and task groups are reconfigured through socio-technical innovations within a given agro-ecological setting. SRI acted as a catalyst, initiating a process of readjustments in the socio-technical configurations of rice farming, varying according to the local context. Farm households, while incorporating SRI into the existing farming system, try to seek complementarity and synergy between various rice farming methods. This allows fluidity among task groups and leads to the extension and diversification of the repertoire of methods used, taking into account the dynamics of the larger socio-economic conditions. The thesis highlights farmers’ adaptive capacities to reconfigure practices, reorganize social formations, and reschedule routines in response to farming interventions, in order to maximize the exploitation of agro-ecological niches, minimize uncertainty in farm production and rationalize the employment of the available work force.

The study indicates a potential for task groups as units for effectively promoting new agricultural interventions. The groups performing farm operations are crucial in developing and adjusting farmers’ managerial skills to cater to the needs of the rice crop in light of the social and economic conditions of the community. For instance, elements of the set of SRI practices, like the use of younger seedlings, fewer seedlings per hill and wider spacing of hills were shown to have influenced practices in nominally ‘non-SRI’ plots. Changes in customary ritual like Din Bar announcing the date of rice transplanting, elevation in the status of Village Level Resource Persons (VLRPs), emergence of different forms of raised bed nurseries (RBNs), and inclusion of young women in transplanting groups reflect how introduction of SRI brought about changes in the social structure and institutions. This thesis thus highlights the role and importance of the human management component in farming activities and agricultural development. This provided insights into the integration of social and technical dimensions of crop cultivation, particularly the dynamics of rice farming using SRI but also for agronomy as a whole.

Keywords: Rice, smallholder farmers, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), socio-technical interactions, farm based innovations, task groups, technical practices, labour organization, mountain farms, Uttarakhand in India.

JEL Classification: O33

Suggested Citation

Sen, Debashish, How Smallholder Farmers in Uttarakhand Reworked the System of Rice Intensification: Innovations from Sociotechnical Interactions in Fields and Villages (December 4, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2699394 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2699394

Debashish Sen (Contact Author)

Wageningen University and Research Center (WUR), School of Social Sciences, Students ( email )

Wageningen
Netherlands

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