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Ilona's Research

Ilona 1
The food situation in India today defies conventional development wisdom: while the government struggles to dispose of massive food surpluses, the population is among the most malnourished and food-insecure in the world. My dissertation research traces the conceptual lineages of the policies that have produced this “paradox of plenty” from the Green Revolution of the 1960s through to today. In this exploration, I find that the situation is not a “paradox,” but is unfortunately a predictable result of the very policy prescriptions offered as the means of ending hunger and initiating the path to development. I examine the logic underlying development and the policy prescriptions to elucidate how the logic of the Green Revolution’s “development” path has produced today’s conditions of hunger amidst plenty.
Examining shifting conceptions of development in India and in Indo-US relations over the last 50 years, I focus on two key projects: the Green Revolution of the 1960s, which modernized agricultural production, and debates about a second Green, or Gene, Revolution today. Through extensive archival work and in-depth interviews with scientists, policy makers, development professionals, and civil society organizers, my dissertation traces how agricultural development and food security have been understood and how the discourse of “hunger” operated in the development paradigm of the Green Revolution (GR) and continues to operate today as a moral imperative. This discourse has enabled policies which—in the name of conquering hunger and “feeding the world”—legitimize the exclusion of the majority of farmers from policy support, thus creating and extending the conditions which underwrite the ostensible “crisis.” Through empirical work I document that while this narrative has been naturalized, eliding alternatives, it is in fact contingent, and the prospect of changing this productionist model appears increasingly possible. My research and analysis contribute to a body of knowledge that may influence policymakers and experts to look beyond assumed models to construct more effective and inclusive agricultural development and food security policies.
The research and policy brief I will conduct at SOKA addresses the essential question of access to food in human development though a policy analysis of India’s long-awaited 2013 National Food Security Act (NFSA). The heated debates around the NFSA offer insight into the functioning of the contradictions of human development in India today. Dubbed the most extensive food security program in the world (due to the number of people it serves), this act harkens back to GR-era redistribution policies, but also expands the range of crops that are supported—beyond the rice and wheat of the GR era to encompass crops such as millet.
This promise of support that government procurement policies offer to small and dryland farmers could help to redress the exclusions of the GR-era which supported only larger farmers. Yet the NFSA offers only minimal food assistance of five kg of foodgrains per person per month at a subsidized cost, and only to India’s poorest residents, which is not only clearly inadequate for even basic nutrition but also highly controversial. Critics decry that India cannot afford the expense of the NFSA; food security advocates insist that the bill’s very meager entitlements are insufficient, arguing for increased allotments and universal entitlements. it is important to note that India now spends more disposing of rotten surplus food than it spent to distribute the same food to the poor at a subsidized rate (before neoliberal reforms). In this context, the opposition to, and support of, the NFSA is not based on an “economic” argument but rather a choice of the nature of government and development. The question of the NFSA cuts to the heart of contradictions and debates about what “development” is and what it is to provide.
My ongoing research draws on political economy and on postcolonial studies to offer a reading of agricultural development policy, extending to the NFSA. While what “works” to address issues of hunger and food security has been widely documented, these policy paths continue to be foreclosed and policies that produce exclusion implemented in their place. My policy brief will attend to these erasures, with the goal of helping to re-open a discussion of agriculture and food security.
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