Clearing the clouds on Rainfed Agriculture in India

Understanding the factors that lead to more sustainable and more productive agriculture at scale, and to identify the appropriate architecture of public investments and policies that produce the right mix of incentives for rainfed farmers.

Mainstream thinking in Indian agriculture and planning has for long held that productivity increases in agriculture will be driven by widespread adoption of Green Revolution technologies. There is a long-standing argument, however, that these technologies are inappropriate within the context of a majority of Indian agriculture which is entirely dependent on rainfall; that the adoption of water demanding technologies in rainfed India would merely replicate the growing crises of groundwater depletion and soil fertility decline in irrigated India; and that there is, therefore, a need to incentivize farmers to undertake sustainable agriculture that is less demanding of water and chemicals, and more in tune with the ecological realities of rainfed India. The research undertaken under this program seeks to understand the factors that lead to a more sustainable and more productive agriculture at scale, and to identify the appropriate architecture of public investments and policies that produce the right mix of incentives for rainfed farmers. The research is supported by the Dutch organization Hivos (Humanist Institute for Cooperation) and the Ford Foundation, under their Rainfed Agriculture Consortium Fund. In 2014, the Fund supported setting up of the research infrastructure at ISB with a grant of €177,000, to be followed up with more funding in the following years. 

The Revitalizing Rain-fed Agriculture Network (RRAN) is a pan-Indian network of natural and social scientists, civil society organizations, bureaucrats, and policy-makers committed to building a case for such an agricultural development paradigm. The network expects to build the case for such a paradigm based on a combination of rigorous research, collation of evidence from existing experiences across the country, and results from a set of demonstration pilots located across the different agro-ecologies that constitute rainfed India. Prof. Ashwini Chhatre at the Indian School of Business leads the research wing of RRAN.

The diverse, complex and historically neglected knowledge demands of rainfed agriculture can only be addressed by an informed disciplinary as well as multi-and trans-disciplinary research coalition – involving a variety of modes of learning, knowledge production and exchange, and understandings of ways to enable policy-practice changes. The research program is built on this idea and functions as a coalition of individual researchers and organizations crossing the research-practice divide, organized around a core group of full-time research staff led by Prof. Ashwini Chhatre. At present, these comprise nine researchers, including two post-doctoral scholars and encompassing recent graduates to experienced analysts. We also have partners and field sites in nine states, and collaborators on three continents.

Research Activities are organized around three approaches: (A) Review and synthesis of existing research and experiences at different scales, (B) Field research through primary data collection and experiments at the local and landscape scale, and (C) Policy analysis using secondary data integrated across social, agro-ecological, and biophysical sources at the national scale. All three approaches are well-integrated with each other and converge on a common objective, such that the outputs of one feeds into the activities under the others. All activities seek to draw inputs from widest possible sources of information and advice, and the research program is committed to collaborative efforts with all possible actors across public, civic, and private realms. In the near future, we expect to provide further updates on this exciting research program, including reports from the field sites as well as collaborations with the private sector.

About the Researcher:
Ashwini Chhatre is an Associate Professor of Geography and Geographic Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He is a Senior Research Fellow and Visiting Professor at the Indian School of Business.