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Environment Research Group PhD Seminar: Can Peasants be Ecological Citizens? The Case of Agri-tourism in Peri-urban Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra, India

Rohit Madan, School of Planning and Geography
Tuesday 6th May 2014 - 4:00pm
Glamorgan Building Council Chamber

Please join us for this Environment Research Group Seminar:

Post structuralist research is increasingly influencing environmental knowledge – feminist/post-colonial authors have led the path for incorporating subjective and lived experiences of human-nature interactions into environmental discourses.

In the global south, however, environmental literature, policy and governance are still dominated by structuralist discourses, hence wider environmental knowledge and governance remain detached from everyday life. The theoretical framework of ecological citizenship enables the focus to shift back to individual agency, and how environmental responsibilities, entitlements and justice are valued by citizens. But how can individuals in the global south be expected to shoulder greater responsibility and extend consideration towards the global commons, when capitalistic modes of production are inducing even higher unevenness over the struggles for justice and resources?

By examining the ecological citizenship of stakeholders engaging in agri-tourism, this research bridges the gap between agency and governance. Agri-tourism is a form of agricultural multifunctionality where farmers diversify their farming activities to include tourism. While providing accommodation, food, a flavour of "rural culture" and learning, agri-tourism increases the farmer's income, but also policymakers, entrepreneurs (and even academics) see agri-tourism as "green" and "sustainable" – a low impact alternative preferable to commercial mainstream tourism. Advocates also believe that enhanced rural and urban interactions can result in knowledge exchange which leads to empowerment and more active participatory ecological-citizenship in rural areas. Agriculture in large parts of the rural south continues to be dominated by marginal farming, but farmers in India, and especially in peri-urban Maharashtra are increasingly under pressure from neo-liberal policies and urbanization to shift into intensive "modern" farming. How then do small farmers who are deemed as "unproductive" and "inefficient" and increasingly subject to indebtedness and market risks cope with greater environmental responsibility?

This study asks how the frame of reference around "ecological citizenship" needs to shift when applied to southern farmers who are already struggling to cope with the day-to-day challenges of capital oriented agriculture? Using narratives from farmers, workers, and villagers who were interviewed in 2012 across three agri-tourism sites, this research concludes that "nature" and "environment" were relevant considerations in agri-tourism – the stakeholders considered these to be important priorities. Whilst urbanization has contributed to greater struggles over natural resources and livelihoods, it had also created higher levels of awareness around the environment, thereby transforming values and priorities in very complex and hybrid ways.