Cultivating diversity on farm: Agrobiodiversity in a tribal region of western India
This thesis examines how two local communities, one tribal and one non-tribal, in western India manage their crop genetic resources within the context of neoliberal policies. Specifically, the thesis examines agrobiodiversity in farmers' fields and how this is affected by a policy environment that expedites changes in the biophysical properties of farms and brings about a shift in sociocultural practices and livelihood options, while promoting stringent intellectual property rights (IPRs) and enhancing the role of the private seed sector. The enquiry is situated within the framework of political ecology to facilitate simultaneous consideration of sociocultural and ecological processes and to link with the policy environment. The spatial mapping of agrobiodiversity puts forward two major arguments. First, modern varieties are unlikely to displace farmers' varieties overnight. Second, the magnitude of the positive relationship between biophysical heterogeneity and agrobiodiversity is declining as farms become smaller, and as farmers' access to technology, public infrastructure, and off farm income increase. Agrobiodiversity is more likely to decline as socioeconomic inequality within the community increases, and as principal farmers intensify their participation in distant labour markets. Further, the sociocultural and agrarian contexts of the study communities challenge universal trends on the relationship between several socioeconomic factors and agrobiodiversity reported in the literature. This study rejects the widely held notion that protection of agrobiodiversity necessitates that indigenous communities continue their sociocultural practices in a static form and that their farms be isolated from modern varieties. Instead, the thesis argues that agrobiodiversity survives through intricate balance between traditional and modern forces. Farmers' seed systems were found to be dynamic, asymmetric in terms of access, and also open to ingression of new genes. The state, through neoliberal policies of IPRs, seed quality, seed subsidies, and economic development, seeks to expand the role of the private seed industry. This undermines the role of farmers' seed systems and that of public institutions in creating and supplying crop varietal diversity. The thesis concludes that claims made about the potential of the recent IPRs and farmers' rights legislation to increase crop varietal choices, encourage farmer-breeders, and promote on farm conservation are grossly overstated.