Governing the soil: natural farming and bionationalism in India

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Springer Nature
This article examines India’s response to the global soil health crisis. A longstanding centre of agricultural production and innovation, India has recently launched an ambitious soil health programme. The country’s Soil Health Card (SHC) Scheme intervenes in farm-scale decisions about efficient fertiliser use, envisioning farmers as managers and soil as a substrate for production. India is also home to one of the world’s largest alternative agriculture movements: natural farming. This puts farmer expertise at the centre of soil fertility and attends to the wider ecological health of soils. Despite emerging as a mode of resistance to dominant agricultural systems, natural farming is now being delivered in increasingly bureaucratic ways by India’s state governments. This article offers Himachal Pradesh as a case study in how the soil is governed, drawing on 38 semi-structured interviews with scientists, agricultural officers, non-governmental organisation leaders, and activists. Rather than assess approaches to soil health according to their ecological bottom line, we examine the differing forms of knowledge, expertise and ‘truth’ in the SHC and Natural Farming approaches. Our analysis reveals discontinuities in how farmers are imagined, as well as continuities in how quasi-spiritual language combines in a bionationalist project, positing assumptions about the correct arrangement of life in nationalist terms. We point to a shift toward hybrid and pick-and-mix approaches to soil health, as farmers and their organisers are increasingly invested with the capacities to combine multiple options. We see a fracturing of expertise and the opening up of epistemic pluralism in responses to the soil fertility crisis.
© The Author(s) 2022. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Agriculture and Human Values, 2022, available online at: . Keywords: soil; alternative agriculture; governmentality; agroecology; green revolution; Himachal Pradesh.
Fitzpatrick, I.C., Millner, N. & Ginn, F. Governing the soil: natural farming and bionationalism in India. Agric Hum Values 39, 1391–1406 (2022).