Agrarian adaptive skilling: Towards a new development equilibrium

A collaborative and inclusive participatory action research undertaken by a group of development practitioners and academics, with shared concerns on the impact of agricultural interventions among adivasis.

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In a homogenised imagination of human aspirations, development interventions replicate popular models, including intensive farming in adivasi landscapes. In the process, they try to sedentarise and individualise adivasi communities living in the forest peripheries. 

Even as modernisation remains an elusive target in most of the tribal belts, ethnic socio-ecological institutions become redundant, leaving the community deskilled— ecologically, socially, and economically. Adivasi’s concerns about this conventional development process entailing detribalisation are seldom deliberated in literature and among the community.

This paper originates in the first phase of a collaborative and inclusive participatory action research undertaken by a group of development practitioners and academics with shared concerns on the impact of agricultural interventions among adivasis. 

The project identified three adivasi villages in the Central Indian Plateau based on specific criteria. It then customised participatory action research methods to align with the community’s ways of probing issues and exploring ideas. The process involved conversations in small groups, debates in village meetings, and interactive walks for deliberating the actions to be carried out. 

The action elements that emerged during the course of the project were led and coordinated by a study group (Adhyayan group) formed in the village meetings. Collective exposure visits and annual confluence involving the three Adhyayan groups provided platforms for sharing and learning between the villages.

The project elicited villagers’ perceptions about wellbeing that steered the conceptualisation of a development frame anchored on three dynamic and interlinked elements — the social-ecological system, a livelihood basket, and socio-cultural institutions. Overlaying the adivasi idea of wellbeing on this trivet frame of development uncovered the central role of a continuous and informed process of adaptive skilling, including mechanisms to stimulate and sustain the process. 

The conceptual model that integrates people’s aspirations with the development context was approached from the vantage point of agriculture — their current mainstay in multiple ways — to highlight what is needed in terms of agrarian adaptive skilling. The project has exposed the possibilities of and requirements for social-ecological adaptive skilling. 

Drawing from the learning so far, the paper points to larger opportunities and specific challenges in reconfiguring development for the tribal peasantry.

Click to read the full working paper

About the Authors

Seema Purushothaman is a Professor at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India. Her teaching and research spans across the concept and practice of sustainability. Seema applies interdisciplinary approaches to analyse social, ecological, economic and policy changes in India to explore their impacts on lives and livelihoods around forests, family arms, and the cities.

Sheetal Patil worked as researcher at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India. Using the lens of sustainability, she focuses on agrarian and related issues that range from natural resource management to food security, livelihood sustenance, institutional and policy influence, and culture and knowledge restoration. Her current research interest is in urban and peri-urban agriculture, food system transformation and social innovation.

Amit Kumar Singh has been with PRADAN for 15 years, working with the adivasi communities of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. He specialises in forming women SHGs and associated tiers, helping in accessing their rights and challenging the forms of discrimination they face in their families and in the society, implementing livelihood programmes by enhancing women farmers’ technical knowledge and the judicious
use of natural resources by building linkage with stakeholders. By training he is an Agricultural Engineer.

Bibhubanta Barad
, an MBA holder, has been working in PRADAN for the last 12 years, engaging with the Adivasi community of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Jharkhand, to help them strengthen their life and livelihoods. He specialises in community mobilisation, building stakeholder linkages, planning and monitoring of agriculture.

Dibyendu Chaudhuri is currently working in the Research and Advocacy unit of PRADAN. A geologist by training, Dibyendu has spent more than 22 years mobilising people from indigenous communities in central Indian plateau, helping them in strengthening their livelihoods. He specialises in Human Resource Development, Monitoring-Evaluation-Learning, Integrated Natural Resource Management, and Microfinance. He is also part of the editorial board of Journal of International Women’s Studies.

Jostine A worked closely with the communities in PRADAN’s Deosar team in Madhya Pradesh for five years after pursuing his MA in Development with a specialization in Law and Governance from Azim Premji University. He specialised in community mobilisation and supported livelihood promotion, in mentoring community leaders, while facilitating liaising of the community with relevant stakeholders focusing on

Mahendra Kumar Singh has been working in PRADAN for about 12 years. He has worked in remote blocks of Koderma and Gumla in Jharkhand for 6 years. For the last three years, he has been engaged in Deosar in Singrauli district of Baghelkhand region in Madhya Pradesh. He specialises in mobilising the community around MGNREGA, making farm-based livelihood more profitable, and stakeholder management. He has an MBA with specialisation in HR and Marketing.

Parijat Ghosh is currently working in Research and Advocacy in PRADAN. She has more than 15 years of experience of working with marginalised people in the Central Indian Plateau to strengthen community organisations and livelihood activities. She also has worked with the human resource development unit of PRADAN in designing and conducting early professional training. Her interest areas include organisation
development, sustainable intensification, and gender. She is also part of the editorial board of Journal of International Women’s Studies.

Saurabh Singh is currently working with the adivasi community in Madhya Pradesh. He joined PRADAN in the year 2010 after completing his MBA in rural development. He specialises in strengthening community organisations, livelihood activities and sustainable intensification of tribal agriculture.