Agro-food innovation system dynamics in India: in search for a transition management approach for sustainability
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This article examines the socio-technical connections of the inability of Indian nation state to complete the task of agrarian transition. It shows that the technology regime of green revolution is certainly not anymore in position to tackle in a sustainable way the contemporary challenge of food security and absorption of surplus labour in India. It describes the process of evolution of failures of the Indian pathway of green revolution (GR) as being determined not only by the limitations imposed upon by the inability to complete land reforms but also by the limits of selected technology regime of green revolution arriving earlier than expected that the agro-food innovation system is unable to deal with in an adequate way. It shows that the failures of agro-food innovation system are attributable to the simple fact that it was constructed, developed and maintained for the extension of mainly the narrow technological trajectory of disseminating high external input responsive varieties to the richer farmers that are operating in the well endowed regions. It points out that the problems arising out of the technology regime of green revolution which the policymakers had built for the dissemination of an extremely narrow technological trajectory are now manifest in the form of agro-food production system having across the regions poor capacity for labour absorption, highly vulnerable to monocropping related environmental costs, highly neglectful of soil and water management, concentration on the adoption of rice-wheat crop rotation in regions where it has made the farmers only vulnerable to ecological stresses and shocks, irrational use of scarce external inputs, lack of emphasis on the generation of technological know-how for small Paper presented in the IV Globelics Conference at Mexico City, September 22-24 2008 holdings that are growing rapidly in numbers, etc., in the case of India. It suggests that the above mentioned limits of Indian green revolution technology regime and agro-food innovation system are now required to be treated as an important institutional barrier in the further advancement of agrarian transition in India. It studies the latest status of socio-economic and environmental impacts being experienced in the country on account of the continued adoption of technology of semidwarf varieties of wheat and rice which was introduced with the objective to overcome food shortages and increase production of food grains in the second half of sixties in India. It analyses the role and impact of the co-evolved system of agro-food innovation that the policymakers built over the period of last forty years to innovate and diffuse the technology of green revolution in India. It brings out how the system of agro-food innovation has been shaped by the political bureaucratic leadership as a non-neutral “social carrier of agricultural science and technology” to serve priority the narrow interests of landed gentry that uses decadent semi-feudal relations of production. It shows that the use of high external input responsive agricultural technology is being continued in the farm fields and in the laboratory by the STI institutions of the system of agro-food innovation without caring for the adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts. It traces the sources of inertia and rigidity of the STI institutions built in the course of the advancement of agrarian transition under construction from the above to the processes of STI put in place by the political bureaucratic leadership and continued by the scientific community leaders till this date in the name of increased food production. It shows that the origin of failures of the agro-food innovation system are to be traced to the way in which the STI processes were conceived and have been continued to be built by the leadership to achieve closest possible alignment with the goals of a narrowly conceived strategy of technology transition. It shows that the selection of technology transition strategy and associated STI processes happened in close collaboration with the policymakers of USAID and other related agencies in the interest of landed gentry in the post-independent period in India. It suggests that serious concerns are now seemingly arising about the wisdom of persisting with the Indian green revolution (GR) technology regime because the nation Paper presented in the IV Globelics Conference at Mexico City, September 22-24 2008 state is also redefining its role and handing over the management of agrarian transition to the agribusiness without bothering about the worsening of conditions of peasantry and rural labour and social, economic and environmental consequences that the country is being made to face as a whole. It shows that the socio-economic situation of peasantry and rural labour is becoming worse and the nature of technological adjustment being made by the agribusiness is making the system of agricultural production much more prone to shocks and stresses getting generated now in the system of agricultural production. It suggests that the agribusiness driven agro-food innovation system would not be able to resolve the agrarian question to the satisfaction of peasantry and rural labour. It argues that the new web of theory, policy and practice is required to be shaped through the perusal of experiments in alternate schooling of the peasants, rural labour and consumers in order to overcome the rapidly deepening crisis of rural economy and achieve sustainability in the prevailing system of agricultural production in India. It suggests that the systems of innovation framework would be better placed if the theoretical approach of socio-technical systems is valorized and extended by the literature in the direction of analyzing the systems as non-neutral social carriers of science and technology. It reviews the experience of attempts being made for the niche formation in respect of an alternate social carrier of agricultural science and technology through the initiatives that have been undertaken by the highly committed individuals and grass root organizations for the implementation of integrated agro-ecological farming or organic agriculture approach in India to be on the whole positive. It concludes that it is not impossible for the movements of peasantry and rural labour to be stimulated and organised to practice socio-technical approach or social design of agricultural technology for effective contribution to a satisfactory resolution of the agrarian question in a less developed country like India. This article is composed of three sections. Section 1 reviews the scholarship undertaken on the subject of management of agrarian transition in the less developed world by the development economists and shows that how almost all the schools of development economics have ended up till now only in sidelining the issue of determinants of agricultural technology and technical change while studying the agrarian question in Paper presented in the IV Globelics Conference at Mexico City, September 22-24 2008 India. It assesses the theories, policies and practice of various kinds of schools of thought operating worldwide on the question of management of agrarian transition with the objective of assessing their contribution to shaping of the dynamics of “as existing” agrofood innovation system in India. Section 2 evaluates the economic and technological performance of the “as existing” system of agro-food innovation with a view to delineate the nature of its role on the one hand in the achievement of extent of completion of agrarian transition and on the other in the kind of failures experienced in tackling the challenge of sustainable agriculture in India. The emerging corporate agriculture based socio-technical transition is also assessed briefly to evaluate the sustainability of this new socio-technical regime in making under the processes of liberalization, privatization and globalization in the Indian context. It studies the experience of analysis of policy making for agriculture undertaken by the political bureaucratic leadership and of the constitution of scientific community in the field of agriculture in the light of treatment meted out to technical change on the basis of the assessments undertaken by both these actors in India. It analyses the contribution of Indo-American S&T partnership (s) for the development of agro-food innovation system with a view to assess the implications of different paths to internationalization of innovation policy. Section 3 suggests that as the proposed new context of agricultural development goes beyond the achievement of continuing only with the objective of increased food production through any kind of technology regime of green revolution (GR) the policymakers would have to adopt the emerging systematic framework of “sociotechnical transition management” to understand the problems of sustainable development of economy in rural areas. The author concludes with the suggestion that the new heuristic proposed here in this article for the analysis of agro-food innovation system as a social carrier of agricultural S&T within the socio-technical framework of innovation management can help the policymakers to provide a peasant and rural labour friendly agro-innovation system and offer a set of longer term solutions for the achievement of sustainability in agriculture in India.