Exclusions in inclusive programs: state-sponsored sustainable development initiatives amongst the Kurichya in Kerala, India

Agriculture and Human Values 34 (4):995-1006 (2017)

We critically discuss the impact of sustainable development initiatives in Kerala, India, on biodiversity and on women farmers in the matrilineal Adivasi community of the Kurichya-tribe in Wayanad. By contextualizing development programs regarding the specifically gendered access to land, division of labor, distribution of knowledge and decision-making power, we situate our analysis within the theoretical framework of feminist political ecology. We first outline women’s gaining of social and political space in local self-government institutions and then critically discuss the impacts of women’s farming groups. Decentralization and development programs have aimed at empowering women and reducing poverty through improved food security. However, little success has materialized, as patriarchal power structures concerning decision-making processes as well as control over the most valuable resources and traditional knowledge have been maintained. Whereas women’s self-help groups in Kerala have enhanced their position, women’s farming groups, by contrast, have brought little betterment. In some cases they have even downsized women’s management and knowledge of resources related to agriculture and do not integrate or enhance Kurichya women’s knowledge. As some women are now introducing high-yielding rice seeds and fertilizer and as it is impossible for them to control land and get access to traditional rice seeds—the domain of men—we contest the notion of women being considered the preservers of agrobiodiversity. We argue, rather, that the construction and transformation of ecological traditional knowledge is highly dependent on the gendered multi-scaled power structures of state and community.
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DOI 10.1007/s10460-016-9758-4
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