Materialising food sovereignty in India: Conscientisation and democratic participation impacts by two farmers movements


During the last 60 years, rural communities globally have experienced the detrimental impacts of the modernisation of agriculture through technocratic and neoliberal policies led by private sector-state partnerships. The social-environmental injustices experienced by marginalised rural communities led to the creation of the food sovereignty movement, a global-scale coalition working to reclaim the people’s power on the food systems, based on a radical discourse of social justice and human rights. While the transformative potential of the food sovereignty discourse is often highlighted, few studies have explored the ways in which community development and communication approaches guide communities towards achieving the goals of the food sovereignty movement at local levels.

By critically analysing the cases of Deccan Development Society and Navdanya, two farmers’ movement in India supporting biodiverse agriculture and self-reliant communities for the last 20 years, this paper describes the impacts of these social movements in terms of conscientisation and democratic participation processes as key indicators of food sovereignty construction. The impacts are presented from the perception and lived experiences of three types of stakeholders: farmers (mostly female), community trainers and professional staff.

Conscientisation processes experienced by the professional staff include learning the importance of participation, sharing power and valuing traditional knowledge. On the side of the community trainers and farmers, conscientisation processes include: valuing the importance of biodiverse farming, understanding the negative impacts of chemical-based agriculture, valuing the importance of alternative paths of rural development, rescuing traditional knowledge, and understanding the drivers of the injustices faced by farmers in their social position as women from scheduled castes, as well as their own potential to trigger and sustain social change.

Democratic participation impacts are identified in terms of empowerment of previously marginalised communities through participatory video, community radio, and community networks that strengthened the confidence, cultural identity, self-reliance and engagement skills of local communities. Clear evidence demonstrates how the above processes led these movements to influence rural policies at state and national levels, such as the National Food Security Act, the Seed Bill, farmers rights’ legislation, IPR legislation and state specific support for organic farming. Further impacts reported include poverty alleviation, hunger reduction and revival of millet and biodiverse farming.

In summary, this research presents an analysis about the dynamics that enabled these movements to generate the above-mentioned impacts in terms of adapting their community development and communication approaches to the limitations and opportunities set by the complex socio-economic and political contexts in India. The findings of this research confirm the transformative potential that food sovereignty discourses and practices have for marginalised communities in rural contexts.