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Cambridge Global Challenges


The rains are less reliable. Sudden heat waves create challenging conditions for crops. Poor harvests result not only in debt, but also in malnutrition for smallholder farmers. Farming in India is not an attractive career option.

Many Indian farmers are turning their backs on the life altogether. The pull of the city, with the promise of better work and a better income, is drawing huge numbers of rural Indians away from the land.

Women in India have always been involved in farming, typically doing work between the traditionally ‘male jobs’ of sowing and harvesting, such as weeding and applying fertiliser. But they usually work land that belongs to their husbands’ families, and when households become more impoverished they have to work harder yet still earn less than the men.

“It’s becoming difficult to get a reliable income from agriculture in many parts of the Indian subcontinent,” says Dr Shailaja Fennell, from the Centre of Development Studies. “It’s quite common for the majority of younger family members to go to a town to look for work. In the last decade in regions like the Punjab – which benefited from the Green Revolution – even many of the young women are leaving the land, to study at school and college.

“So now the farming is left to the older women – the mothers and sometimes the grandmothers. They’re in the difficult situation of having to make do in households where incomes are falling. In poorer states such as Odisha, this can lead to malnourishment, which has long-term effects on the children.”

The record grain outputs of India’s ‘Green Revolution’ in the 1970s and 1980s established the country as one of the world’s largest agricultural producers, sustaining its booming population and boosting its economy. But the level of success varied from region to region, and the continued overuse of water, fertilisers and pesticides, together with post-harvest crop losses, has put increasing pressure on natural resources. India’s rapid population growth continues, and the UN estimates it will surpass China by 2022 to become the most populous country in the world. And more people means more mouths to feed.

Fennell is a co-investigator of TIGR2ESS: a new, large-scale, multi-partner project that has just been awarded £6.9m funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) by Research Councils UK to address this complex web of issues. Drawing together a formidable network of partners from research, industry, government and NGOs in the UK and India, the project aims to define the requirements for a second, more sustainable Green Revolution, and to deliver this through a suite of research programmes, training workshops and educational activities.

The funding forms part of the UK government’s Official Development Assistance commitment, and partners from both countries will work together, with over 22 new researchers funded in both the UK and India.


For further details, please see the source article here.

Cambridge Global Challenges is a Strategic Research Initiative of the University of Cambridge that aims to enhance the contribution of its research towards addressing global challenges and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

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