Flower farmers in a dry land

Irene Leonardelli recently defended her research proposal at lHE Delft

Her research entitled ‘Flower Farmers in a Dry Land: A feminist ethnography of agrarian change and water flows in Maharashtra, India’ focuses on how farmers in the rural areas of Maharashtra, in India, are responding to, experiencing or even escaping processes of agrarian restructuring and water re-allocation provoked by the intensification of agriculture. More specifically, she is studying how the shift from subsistence to commercial farming is modifying tenure and labour relations, consumption and migration patterns as well as people’s experiences of and relations to their environment. Moreover, she is interested in analysing, from a feminist critical perspective, how far-away people, places and natures become connected through (physical and virtual) flows of water implied in the commodity chain of high-value crops. In her research, tracing these connections means assessing their implications for modalities and scales of water governance, but also reflecting on potential transnational feminist collaborations that can contribute to more equitable and sustainable socionatural futures.

All photos: Sharmini Bisessar

Reflecting on the intersections between water flows and people flows

At the moment I am doing my secondment at SOPPECOM, an NGO based in Pune (India). SOPPECOM is committed to support the most disadvantaged and marginalized sections of the population – especially women, dalits, landless in the rural area of Maharashtra- promoting practices of sustainable use of land and water resources, collaborating with grassroots groups and conducting research and advocacy work. I am learning a lot from their work and their experiences, especially from their action research programmes. At the same time, they are helping me developing my PhD research and collecting preliminary data.
Gerberas cultivated in poly houses in Pune. Photo: Irene Leonardelli

With my research I focus on floricultures to disentangle processes of agrarian restructuring and water re-allocation provoked by the intensification of agriculture in Maharashtra, from a feminist critical perspective. Currently, I am trying to map the floricultural landscape of Maharashtra, learning about farming practices and water sources and uses, the history of this business and the values and symbols attached to flowers.

A woman farmer showing the marigolds she cultivates in open fields, in her village close to Pune. Photo: Irene Leonardelli

I am reflecting on the intersections between water flows and people flows, about gendered labour relations and consumption patterns, about all the different stories and voices that compose this reality… how to make sense and co-narrate all of this, in a self-reflective, non-extractive way? Many threads tangling in my mind: it is challenging but also very fascinating and inspiring…

* Irene Leonardelli‘s research topic is Virtual water flows: re-articulating gendered structures of accumulation along emerging agro-food commodity chains in Maharashtra, India.