Civil society organizations for sustainable agriculture: negotiating power relations for pro-poor development in India
The promotion of sustainable agriculture is a focal point for many civil society organizations (CSOs) in India, including both development NGOs and grassroots organizations. In this article, I draw on three case studies of CSOs promoting sustainable agriculture in India, in order to evaluate their potential to address contemporary agrarian issues in a pro-poor manner. I argue that, whatever the technical merits of sustainable farming systems may be, CSOs are constrained in their ability to implement these systems in a manner that directly meets the needs of the rural poor. This is largely because, in order to achieve their goals, sustainable agriculture organizations usually must forge relations with at least five separate entities: the state, donor organizations, activist networks, rural elites and the rural poor. Strategic decisions must be made regarding which of these entities are prioritized and, for a variety of reasons, the leaders of sustainable agriculture organizations often prioritize relations with powerful actors rather than the rural poor. This is a major barrier to the development of models of sustainable agriculture that may address the needs of rural communities in the context of the contemporary agrarian crisis.