Chipko legacies: sustaining an ecological ethic in the context of agrarian change
During the 1970s, the Chipko movement mobilised popular opposition to commercial forestry in the Indian Himalaya. Today, the legacy of this movement remains contentious. For some, it was a successful environmental movement, which led to the protection of natural resources. For others, it has stalled development in the region, preventing the creation of much-needed employment opportunities. This article engages with this contentious legacy and evaluates the ongoing relevance of Chipko in the region. It does this by presenting a case study of a Chipko-inspired seed conservation movement, the Beej Bachao Andolan (Save the Seeds Movement, BBA), which has attempted to sustain Gandhian and ecological values in the region by promoting ecologically sensitive, bottom-up village development. While BBA has been effective in mobilising people against threats to subsistence agriculture, local people remain ambivalent about aspects of its core message, which are not seen to offer solutions to growing local challenges, such as climate change and out-migration. The successes and failures of BBA point to the complex and contradictory position of farmers in the Indian Himalaya and the extent to which Gandhian and ecological values remain relevant to them in the context of agrarian change.