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Showing posts from 2014

Integrated landscape management in Asia: who participates,who doesn't?

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Till recently, I was working on a Global Review of Integrated Landscape Initiatives with Bioversity International and the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative. As part of the Asia review, we surveyed 166 landscape initiatives in South and Southeast Asia to get a better idea of what works in integrated landscape management and what doesn't. From the Bioversity website:
Integrated landscape management is increasingly gaining attention as a way to understand and address the complex and interconnected goals of agricultural production, ecological conservation, and livelihood improvement. Working at the landscape level means engaging with different actors at different levels, often with competing motivations. Bringing multiple actors together to initiate dialogue, facilitate participatory decision-making, and enable conflict resolution can be extremely rewarding, but is also challenging and time and resource intensive. Building upon these findings, I wrote a post on the WL…

ASSAR Annual Meeting: Notes on collaborative, interdisciplinary research

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On my first day as a postdoctoral researcher on the ASSAR (Adaptation at Scale in Semi-arid Regions) project, I was hurled into a week-long ASSAR Annual Meeting held at IIHS, Bangalore. A wonderful mix between workshop, project meeting, networking event and academic brainstorming session, the week was the best possible induction I could get into the goings on of ASSAR. It also helped me understand how large collaborative projects spanning several continents work and how do highly motivated and skilled researchers work together to explore big questions of development in the context of climate change.

One of the days of the annual meeting was a national stakeholder consultation which attracted academicians, civil society actors and policymakers to a common platform. This day-long event was designed to facilitate multiple stakeholders to deliberate on the challenges and opportunities of adaptation at scale in India and Africa. I wrote a blog on it here.

The key things that stood out for…

Book Review | Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World

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I just finished reading Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World by Helena Norberg-Hodge. It is strange that it is only now that I finally read this masterpiece; six years since I first went to Ladakh and began my journey of academic inquiry and personal growth. Ladakh was the place I discovered my love for ethnographic study and found the inspiration to undertake a PhD. Ladakh was the place I stood up to a corrupt Goba (village head) to support a women's Self Help Group I had closely worked with. Ladakh was the place I began understanding that the journey is the destination. But even if Ladakh was not such an integral part of my growth, I would still have been very sorry to miss Ancient Futures.

Drawing on decades of ethnographic work starting in the 1970s, when Ladakh was first 'opened' to tourists, Norberg-Hodge starts by painting an evocative picture of the social contentment and ecological harmony in traditional Ladakhi communities. It is so palpa…

Link Pack | Sustainable intensification in agriculture

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Blog: Ian Scoones writes about the latest buzzword in agriculture 'sustainable intensification' (SI) and whether it can help address global food security. 
Paper: In a recent paper, Loos et al. (2014) critique the current definition of SI and highlight the need to look at issues of equity (who gains what?) and individual empowerment (to secure food). They conclude that in it's current framing, SI is a 'a vaguely defined global vision' that needs 'revisiting earlier, regionally grounded, bottom-up approaches'. Importantly, the paper also highlights the need for maintaining the multi-functionality of agro-ecosystems if SI has to be sustainable. All in all, a crucial reading for those interested in agricultural intensification and farming systems research. 

Researcher’s social capital: Liaising with local actors for effective ethnographic research

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The doing of research is something that is very close to my heart and a subject I have not adequately touched upon in this blog. In an interdisciplinary field like mine that draws upon rural development, natural resource management, and climate change science, I have experimented with and relied upon several methods for collecting data. During my PhD fieldwork, I drew on my experience working with an NGO, to gain access to and acceptance in the community I was conducting my research in. And I realised that just as in any other endeavour, building networks, investing in relationships beyond the strict confines dictated by professional boundaries, and collecting data like 'branches to build my nest' (in the words of my supervisor) helped tremendously.

In a post at LSE's Field Research Blog, I elaborate on some of these points and discuss how liaising with local actors can help build a researcher's social capital and thus facilitate effective ethnographic research.

Link Pack | ICTs for climate change adaptation (among other things)

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Paper:Linking ICTs and Climate Change Adaptation: A Conceptual Framework for e-­Resilience and e-­Adaptation by Ospina and Heeks (2010) is a fascinating read. The authors put forth a framework to explore how ICTs can enhance individual adaptive capacities and contribute to the overall adaptation process. The paper also introduced me to 'ICT4CCA' which stands for Information and Communication Technologies for Climate Change Adaptation. Quite a mouthful but wildly interesting nevertheless! 
Book: I've just started reading Professor Sumit Guha's latest book 'Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present' as a way to educate myself with the multiple histories that shape caste in India. From the blurb I quote "'caste' should be understood as a politically inflected and complex form of ethnic stratification that persisted across religious affiliations". A review will be out soon!
Video: Lifelines is a beautiful video made by researc…

Shifting the discourse from adaptation to transformational adaptation

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There is growing concern that climate change adaptation may have 'somehow lost its edge...lost its spunk and it became just another term for development'. My own research from Pratapgarh, a tribal-dominated rainfed region in Rajasthan, western India, showed that farmers mainly use short-term coping  that help them 'get by' rather than longer-term adaptive strategies that help build resilience to present and future risks. 

There is also a growing call for the need to move from 'mere' adaptation totransformational adaptation. Transformational adaptation places an emphasis on moving beyond coping to long-term sustainable change (on a temporal scale) and shifting from individual or local coping and adaptive strategies to making change across societies and economies (something researchers have said earlier too).

One of the key findings of my research on smallholder farmer vulnerability to water scarcity and climate change pointed to this precisely: there is only so …

Link Pack | Rural landscapes, M&E for climate change adaptation

Video: Stumbled upon an interesting repository of images from the British Empire at Colonial Film. Each video is accompanied by an analysis which is quite useful. Watching one 1943 video In Rural Maharashtra, I was struck by how effectively the role of women in an agricultural household was portrayed. Another interesting insight was corn being called the main crop, which has certainly changed with the cotton boom in Maharashtra. It would be interesting to see a similar film being made now and comparing the two to document how rural landscapes and intra-household labour division have changed.

Reading resource: SEA Change and UKCIP recently held a webinar on monitoring and evaluation (M&E) methods in climate change adaptation. Here's a link to the interesting discussion, M&E guidance notes and recommended resources on the latest developments and toolkits in adaptation M&E. Highly recommended.

Blog: Patrick Dunleavy, author of 'Authoring a PhD' gives advice on writ…

Book Review: Water Resource Management in a Vulnerable World

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Access to water is poised to be the issue future wars will be fought over, especially in the context of global climate change and its current and projected impacts. In Water Resource Management in a Vulnerable World: the hydro-hazardscapes of climate change,Daanish Mustafa, a Reader in Human Geography at King’s College, London, argues that the most pressing challenge facing us today is addressing water sufficiency while managing our increasing vulnerability to climate change. He deconstructs this crisis by examining what he terms the “hydro-hazardscapes of climate change”.


Under this ‘hydro-hazardscape’ discourse, the main argument Mustafa puts forth is that apart from looking at structural solutions such as building dams, canals, tube wells and flood banks, water managers must look at the social, economic, cultural and political pressures that impact societies. For more about the book and the variety of case studies Mustafa uses to illustrate his thesis, read a book review I did for N…

Book Review: Reclaiming Development by Ha-Joon Chang and Ilene Grabel

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Reclaiming Development was not an easy book for me to read. It made me uncomfortable in a way only a book aiming to question the status quo can. From the beginning, it grasped my attention in a bold, 'here is our argument and this is why it is important enough for you to listen to it' way. I'm glad I chose to review the book (and thankful to LSE Review of Books to send it to me!).

In simple writing and concise chapters, Chang and Grabel (both noted development economists), put forth a compelling case for challenging the current belief that development is achievable only through a neoliberal model. The book first explores existing 'Development Myths' and then provides specific solutions drawing from several case studies.

For more on the book and my review of it, you can go here.

Link Pack: Hydro-hazardscapes, waste management and mainstreaming CC adaptation

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Book: I am reading the latest book by Daanish Mustafa (Reader, Geography at King's College, London) 'Water Resource Management in a Vulnerable World: The Hydro-hazardscapes of Climate Change'. He introduces the concept of 'hydro-hazardscapes' to effectively capture the non-economic, socio-cultural values of water as well as emphasise the different constructions of threat as perceived by different stakeholders by using examples from Pakistan to USA. A review will be up shortly.    

Report:A study by the Centre for Policy and Research (CPR, India) makes a case for state-level climate change planning as a relevant entry for sustainable development process. Now we hope the people in-charge read it!

Video:Satyamev Jayate, an Indian television talk show that highlights social issues in India ranging from female infanticide and untouchability, to unsustainable pesticide use and growing water scarcity, is back for a second season. Anchored by Aamir Khan (one of Bollywood'…

PhD Tips: Second Year or Fieldwork as a Planned Adventure

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When I wrote out tips for First year PhD students, I didn't realise it would become the most viewed post on my blog (nearly 1200 views to date!). Between picking up a new job, relocating back to India, and getting used to post-PhD life (who knew I'd miss it so?!), I found myself going through notebooks I'd kept during my fieldwork. Covering 11 months of fieldwork, the notebooks reminded me of the best part of my doctoral journey, which involved asking difficult questions, travelling to the back of beyond, and sometimes, eating opium for dinner! Today, I am writing about things to keep in mind during one's fieldwork, assuming you have a clear idea about what data you want to collect and how (methods and tools you are using). As before, this post would apply to people doing primary predominantly qualitative data collection. 
Do not underestimate the pilot phase: Give adequate time to piloting your tools. I spent two months making linkages within the community, piloting my…

Link Pack: Development economics, constructions of climate change

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Book: Zed books, one of my favourite publishers, recently reissued several pivotal books under their Critique Influence Change Series. I just finished the incredibly provocative and engrossing 'Reclaiming Development' by Ha-Joon Chang and Ilene Grabel which makes a compelling case against neoliberal hegemony and maps out alternative economic instruments that can usher in stable, sustainable, and equitable development. A review coming soon!

Article:Recent research by Simelton et al. (2013) at the University of Leeds show that rainfall changes are easily confused with increased agricultural sensitivity and understanding perceptions of changes in the weather are crucial for adaptation decision making and action. Similar to my findings on farmer perceptions of climate change in rural Rajasthan!

Blog:'Making climate change visible' by Dr. Ian Scoones summarises discussions from the recently concluded STEPS-JNU Symposium on 'Exploring Pathways to Sustainability'. Key p…

Book Review: Food Security and Sociopolitical Stability edited by CB Barrett

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Global food price spikes in 2008 and again in 2011 coincided with a surge of political unrest in low- and middle-income countries. In some places, food riots turned violent, pressuring governments and in a few cases contributed to their overthrow. Foreign investors sparked a new global land rush, adding a different set of pressures, and the spectre of widespread food insecurity and sociopolitical instability weighs on policymakers worldwide. 'Food Security and Sociopolitical Stability' edited by CB Barrett represents a critical and timely contribution to food policy and global security discourses and a launch pad for political action. Read my review of it here.

PhD Tips: First Year or Becoming a Researcher

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I recently defended my thesis successfully. That I can call myself Dr. Singh is both an exhilarating and alarming feeling. What a way to end the year! As 2013 drew to a close,I reflected on my doctoral journey and realised what a beautiful, nerve-racking, stimulating, and tumultuous journey it has been: complete with day-of-printing Endnote disasters, I've-collected-my data-now-what panic attacks, oh-no-someone-already-did-my-research (and did it better!) horror shows. But it has also been a stimulating and humbling experience. I learnt and travelled, read and wrote about something I care deeply about. Being an Indian student on her first trip abroad, I also experienced a different culture (who knew that a Yorkshire pudding is not a pudding at all!!) and adjusted to a completely different academic system.

Having completed my PhD in three years and three months, some friends have asked me how I managed. While a big motivation was having a limited scholarship, I do think I did some t…

Link Pack: Social learning, climate change, new book on State regulation

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Sustainable development through social learning: A new paper in Nature Climate Change posits that wicked problems like climate change can greatly benefit from social learning approaches because they foster iterative, collaborative and participatory learning. An open access version of the paper is here.

Ed Carr's blog: I have read several of Carr's papers and was really glad to find his blog which discusses climate change, adaptation, and development among other things. His work on 'livelihoods as intimate government' is particularly interesting.

SEA identifies 12 issues around monitoring and evaluation in climate change adaptation projects (link). Key points: 1) adaptation is a process, not an end point and represents a 'moving target', 2) adaptation cycles are much longer than programme time frames, 3) uncertainty, scale, conflicting definitions of adaptation and maladaptive pathways, make M&E difficult.

A new book ​​The Rise of the Regulatory State of the S…

Link Pack: Vulnerability indicators, pluralism, participatory farmer advisories

A new paper by Katherine Vincent and Tracy Cull that reviews debates around using indicators to assess climate change vulnerability. The section on 'principles for developing robust indicators' is interesting and emphasises the need for a clear conceptual framework, transparent choice and aggregation of indicators, a critical examination of different methodologies and their assumptions, and finally, managing limitations of indicators (do they capture the spatio-temporal dynamics of vulnerability?).A review of Remapping India, a book by Louise Tillin which looks at the political origins of new states in India and looks like a book to delve into.'Preserving pluralism in India today', the latest episode on the highly recommended The NDTV Dialogues. Interesting insights on pluralism in India and why secularism is not the opposite of communalism by Lord Parekh, Arun Shourie, and Professor Mushirul Hassan. Blog on farmer perceptions of climate variability: Drawing on work in…