Changing Farming Lives in South India, Past and Present

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts and Social Sci (FASS)


The proposed network will explore the potential of arts and humanities approaches, in particular aspects of history, film and sound, to document and support small farmer creativity in developing resilience to livelihood challenges in relation to food, biodiversity, and climate issues. Substantially shaped by the partner organisation in India, the NGO Green Foundation, the network will be built through workshop, engagement activities, and pilot initiatives bringing together academics from a variety of disciplines, smallholding farming communities in south India, and NGOs working on agricultural and environmental issues. The timeliness of this initiative stems from growing concerns expressed by influential bodies such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that India's high vulnerability and exposure to climate change threatens to erode food security and make poverty reduction more difficult. It also responds to recent calls to inject historical perspectives into present-day climate science debates and to explore experiences of vulnerability and resilience as long-term processes, produced by a range of societal phenomena beyond simply climate disturbances. As small scale producers are acknowledged to be crucial in attaining food security and ending hunger globally, bringing their local voices and particularly those of women farmers to the fore will help identify new perspectives on, and bring fresh ideas to, the global challenge of sustainable and inclusive development.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit:
The networking activities will develop capacity amongst (1) small scale and marginal farmers in the south Indian state of Karnataka; (2) campaigning groups and NGOs in India and South Asia concerned with food security and climate adaptation issues; (3) the India-based NGO Green Foundation

(1) small scale and women farmers in Karnataka
The pilot projects involving these farmers (see Pathways to Impact) will deliver 6 audio recordings and 4 video films that will
--enable them to represent themselves and speak about the livelihood issues they are most concerned with
--promote women farmers' status and importance in maintaining food security and agricultural diversity
--enable them to share farming knowledge and skills more widely
--inspire farming communities to generate their own records and testimonies, thus promoting their inclusive participation in development
--transfer video production skills that will enhance women farmers' creativity and self-confidence

(2) campaigning groups/NGOs concerned with food security and climate adaptation issues in India and South Asia
The audio-visual resources, research papers from the project workshop, and a booklet about the oral history pilot, all hosted on and downloadable from the open access project website, will
--provide these groups with adaptable resources for generating historically informed records of small farmer communities with little documented history of their own
--provide resources for use in a variety of campaignining and advocacy work on behalf of poor farmers

(3) Green Foundation
Outputs and resources produced by the project will
--enable them to to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of historical insights in enhancing farmer resilience
--make possible wider opportunities for strategic networking with agricultural and environmental organisations
--provide new resources for their sustainable agriculture work with women smallholders


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Title Women Talk on Film 
Description Women Talk on Film is a series of 4 films depicting women farmers in the State of Karnataka, India, talking about the specific crops they grow, the considerable skills they bring to this work, and their life experience more generally. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The films have given the farmers a great sense of pride and self-esteem and is being used by the local partnering organisation as an educational and training tool to disseminate ideas and practices relating to sustainable, biodiverse farming. This is still in its initial stages and a sense of the impact will only begin to emerge in about a year's time. 
Description The project has given women small farmers in the district of Ramanagara, Karnataka, India, a voice to talk about their knowledge, skills and experience in relation to local crops and sustainable agriculture which had previously remained unheard and undocumented. It has also revealed that sustainable farming practices in this region are based on cumulative experience and knowledge stretching back over several generations. The oral history research method has also highlighted the significance of particular cultural practices and performances derived from the past (songs, ceremonies, prayers, festivals) in the shaping of present-day modes of resilience. These findings are relevant to GCRF/ODA objectives as they support the welfare of poor farming communities in India, making a particular contribution to increasing gender equality and women's empowerment, and to strengthening community resilience as a means of tackling poverty reduction and drought-prone climate change. They also address, from an arts and humanities perspective, GCRF/ODA concerns to preserve and learn from cultural memory and to promote sustainable heritage in rural contexts.
Exploitation Route During 2019, the findings have been taken forward by the local partnering NGO GREEN Foundation in their training and awareness-raising work with 2500 predominantly women farmers in the State of Karnataka. GREEN has been using the videos produced by the project to focus on on the possibilities and benefits of cultivating traditional crops such as millets within a sustainable and organic framework. This has included the highlighting of women's specific knowledges about indigenous local crops. With the support and resources provided by GREEN, particularly new millet processing equipment and income generating facilities for women small farmers, it is expected that the majority of these farmers will adopt and benefit from sustainable farming practices oriented towards local drought-resilient crops. However, this work is ongoing with the full impact likely to be realised in the next couple of years. Finally, with the videos freely available on both the project and GREEN's websites coupled with GREEN's involvement in a wider network of NGOs working on sustainable agriculture issues in India, there is every likelihood that the findings will travel to other farming communities across India.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Via the videos produced by the project, the findings are being used by the local partner in India GREEN Foundation in their training and development work with 2500 farmers in the State of Karnataka relating to issues of sustainable agriculture, mitigating the impact of drought, and women's empowerment. These findings relate directly to UN Sustainable Development Goals 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture), 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages), 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls), 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns), and 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts).
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Title Oral History recordings 
Description The database comprises recorded interviews with 17 small farmers in the Indian State of Karnataka. The farmers talk about their cultural memories and life experiences in relation to farming and other significant and meaningful events, e.g. marriage, migration, and the education of women. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The analysis of this database is currently taking place, and the findings will be shared and made publicly available in 2019-20. Notable impacts will be reported on in 2020. 
Description GCRF Research Collaboration, International Development 
Organisation Green Foundation
Country India 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The Changing Farming Lives project was co-designed, the OU team coordinated the project, set up the website, carried out the oral history research, selected the UK-based conference participants, and analysed the research findings.
Collaborator Contribution Green Foundation hosted the conference, provided access to the farmers to be interviewed for the oral history project, selected the India-based conference participants,jointly analysed the research findings and are disseminating the findings and outcomes of the research. We are seeking further funding to extend the collaboration for a period of 2 years.
Impact Four films as follows: 1. My Grandmother used to sing whilst weeding 2. The Grinding Stone 3. We have more time now 4. Mother of Seeds Multidisciplinary collaboration involving history, anthropology, and development studies
Start Year 2017
Description International workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two workshops were held in Bangalore, India, during the project. The first was a networking event comprising 7 academics from the UK and 14 NGO representatives from India designed to establish a research network, and to work out the details of a pilot research project. The second workshop was attended by 100 Indian farmers to hear about interim research findings and watch the videos that had been made (the main outcome of the project) and which featured some of them talking about their experiences of farming, past and present. There was a good discussion afterwards, and our local project partner GREEN Foundation reported widespread interest among other farmers in viewing and discussing the contents of the videos. During 2019 GREEN took this forward and the videos became a central feature of its training programmes involving 2500 small farmers in the State of Karnataka. These sessions focused on the importance of traditional crops such as millets for farmers' livelihoods in the context of current drought-prone conditions and included ideas and plans about what can be done differently to renew interest amongst farmers in the cultivation of these local crops.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019