Agrarian Environments

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSHE2ED3032

To which offered: (I/ III/ V) III semester

Course Title: Agrarian Environments

Credits: 2 Credits

Course Code (new): SHE2ED303

Type of Course: Elective Yes Cohort MAED

Course Coordinator and Team: Prof. Asmita Kabra

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Course Description:

This course aims to provide a theoretical and practical understanding of agrarian change and rural livelihoods in the ‘marginal ecologies’ of the Global South. It deliberately focuses on the less-studied agrarian practices in upland and dryland regions, instead of ‘mainstream’ agriculture in the more commercial river valley regions of the world. The bulk of the rural poor inhabit these regions, and a major share of the world’s food production occurs here, and yet these regions are marginal to the bulk of work in agrarian studies. The reality of smallholders in the world today is that of diversified livelihoods, in which agriculture and other land based activities continue to play a significant (albeit changing) role. The course aims to familiarize students with the big debates on the role of agrarian and rural systems, as well as the lived realities and everyday practices of agriculture and land and natural resource based livelihoods in these regions. It focuses on shifting cultivators, pastoralists and forest-dependent households who are simultaneously smallholder peasants. Migration, mobility and diversification into non-farm livelihoods are a critical part of their coping strategy, and a key way in which they deal with natural and market-related risks.

The course provides various theoretical lenses and disciplinary perspectives for situating macro-level (from ‘above’) debates on agriculture/rural development within larger developmental discourses. It then introduces students to theories explaining micro-level (from ‘below’) decision making at the level of individuals, households and groups/communities with regard to land-based livelihoods. It ends with case studies of such livelihood strategies in the context of forest-dependent, pastoral and shifting cultivation based smallholders.

Course Objectives:

  • To understand the contestations, negotiations, risks and opportunities involved in land-based livelihoods in marginal ecologies of the global South
  • To question and problemmatize the binaries between urban-rural, local-global, traditional -Western, indigenous-scientific, farm-nonfarm, field-forest, and community-state in the present context

Course Outcomes

On successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Read, comprehend and analyse complex interdisciplinary texts pertaining to the role of agriculture in economic development in the global South
  2. Critically analyse socio-economic and environmental changes in agrarian and rural regions of the global South in the era of globalization
  3. Understand the importance of economic and environmental risks, hazards and vulnerability in rural livelihoods for pastoralists, forest-dependent groups, small/marginal farmers and shifting cultivators
  4. Understand and analyse social, political and environmental challenges to sustainable rural livelihoods through real-world case studies
  5. Design and carry out careful field-based enquiry into livelihood and natural resource management decision-making strategies of land-dependent rural populations

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

S. No.



Role of agriculture in development


Globalization, agriculture and rural livelihoods in the 21st century


Rural livelihoods and smallholder decision-making


Agro-pastoral livelihoods


Agrarian environments and forest-based livelihoods


Shifting cultivation based livelihoods


Core Readings

  1. Bernstein H. (2008). ‘Agrarian questions from transition to globalization’. In A. H. Akram-Lodhi and C. Kay (eds.) Peasants and Globalization: Political economy, rural transformation and the agrarian question. London: Routledge, 239-261.
  2. Rigg, Jonathan (2006). ‘Land, Farming, Livelihoods, and Poverty: Rethinking the Links in the Rural South’ World Development, 34 (1): 180-202.
  3. Li, Tania (2009). Exit from Agriculture: A Step Forward or a Step Backward for the Rural Poor? Journal of Peasant Studies 36(3): 629-636
  4. Scoones, Ian et al. Hazards and Opportunities: Farming livelihoods in dryland Africa - Lessons from Zimbabwe. London and New Jersey: Zed Books Ltd., 1996.
  5. Mortimore, Michael (1998), “Roots in the African Dust”, UK, Cambridge University Press.
  6. Agarwal, A. and K. Sivaramakrishnan (eds.). 2001. Social nature: Resources, representations and rule in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  7. Benedikt Korf, Tobias Hagmann & Rony Emmenegger (2015). Re-spacing African drylands: territorialization, sedentarization and indigenous commodification in the Ethiopian pastoral frontier. The Journal of Peasant Studies 42:5, 881-901, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2015.1006628
  8. Ickowitz, A. 2006. Shifting cultivation and deforestation in tropical Africa: critical reflections. Development and Change 37: 599-626.

Tentative Assessment schedule with details of weightage:

In this course students attend two interactive weekly sessions of two hours each, which will consist of lectures, in-class discussions, audio-visual resources and guided reading. These will be supplemented by regular tutorials. Outline handouts for each lecture will be posted to students by email. There will be 3 types of assessments during the course:

Assessment No.





Class participation based activities (2)









Term paper