Managing Sustainable Transitions


"Farmers are our first line of defence against climate change, but the way we are doing agriculture is causing climate change."  

- T. Vijaykumar

At Kurien Centenary celebrations

Nov 26th, 2021

Soil, water, food and livelihoods:
Converging crises of agriculture

The ecological footprint of agriculture based livelihoods is increasingly forcing us to rethink the future of farming with abysmal levels of soil organic matter, exploitation of groundwater, low nutritional levels of food despite increased productivity, rapid loss of biodiversity and the ever increasing costs of fossil fuel based agrochemical inputs in sustaining farming today.

In India, while the government is spending increasingly higher amounts on fertilizer subsidy, the responsiveness of soil to fertilizer inputs is decreasing. Farmers are often subjected to adverse climate events leading to crop failures and livelihood losses. The different farmers’ protests in recent years are a reflection of this worsening agrarian crisis. The COVID-19 lockdown revealed the vulnerability of the farmers most explicitly, as we witnessed thousands of people facing threats to food security, in spite of being a food grain surplus country.

Agroecology, a newer paradigm that recognizes the interdependence of livelihoods, technology and ecology, presents an alternative socio-technical pathway for a sustainable transition. We seek to understand the opportunities and challenges for alternative pathways through research and documentation and facilitate knowledge dialogues that can foster a learning alliance for multiple stakeholders to think, act and co-create futures.

Enabling a supportive ecosystem for inclusively responsible agriculture



Characterising successful and promising initiatives within the country


Mapping and identifying

Mapping and identifying stakeholders and organisations who can push to change the status quo.



Enabling collaboration and learning alliances between civil society organisations, academics, activists, and government agencies.



Learning from grassroots experiences and centering the agency of farmers as change-makers.

Creating a Learning Alliance

  • We have documented cases of institutional innovations to provide a framework for managing sustainable transition.

  • We involve youth to explore opportunities in sustainable agriculture in collaboration with CSOs through the VKRI internship.

  • We follow ongoing programs to explore innovations that can further opportunities for youth from mainstream agricultural colleges in natural farming with Natural Farming Fellows.

  • We undertake independent research in the form of surveys and mixed-methods approaches to understand ground realities pertaining to the uptake and practice of agroecological practices.  

  • We facilitate learning alliances at the state and national level by creating innovation spaces for multiple stakeholders to dialogue and learn from each other. These include:

    • Exchange On 27th October 2021 we conducted a state level webinar with representation from, civil society and academia from across Gujarat, along with a special presentation by Socratus on their work on conducting a multi-stakeholder visioning exercise for sustainable transitions.

    • A National Workshop on Rural Transformation through Scaling Agroecology, in collaboration with NCNF, was held on 27th November 2021. We hosted representatives from across India, as well as other technical organizations and individual experts. The discussion underscored the need for greater peer learning and creating consensus around salient principles of Natural Farming.

    • To understand the curricular push to include Natural Farming in state agricultural universities, we hosted a webinar titled Agroecology in University Curriculum: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Transition on 8th Feb 2022.

Managing Sustainable Transitions through building on
diverse forms of knowledge


Transitioning towards sustainable and equitable food systems requires systematic shifts in collective values, public policies, markets and knowledge systems. India has a unique advantage in leading the transition in agriculture given its large farming community and knowledge base. These socio-technical transitions need to be initiated at various levels, to change the practices and decisions of farmers in their fields to state and national policies.

However, as we know, the knowledge underlying any technology is often contested, with diverging interests of different players. In case of Indian agriculture, the dominant forms of practices, have eroded contextual knowledge of farmers. As a result, they have lost their control over their lives and livelihoods, and become reliant on corporate controlled markets, for seed, fertilisers, and even distribution of their produce.

Therefore, it is important to recognize innovations at the margin, that are enabling changes and empowering farmers, whether by formal institutions like RySS in Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa Millets Mission or collective efforts of activists and entrepreneurs, so that they can be represented within dominant institutional narratives. We aim to contribute to a growing discourse on sustainable transitions with a focus on equity, civic action and knowledge pluralism.