Martina Padmanabhan:
Governing Agribiodiversity -- Institutional and Gender Analysis of Transition in South India


Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institute of Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences (IWSL), Germany

Agrobiodiversity is a common resource, on which our future global food security rest, while simultaneously representing the means of survival for many farmers at present. Women have been identified as the key-persons regarding knowledge and management skills. Threatened by increasing privatisation and market integration, men and women farmers risk the loss of diversity in favour for poverty reducing income opportunities. This dilemma is faced differently by men and women, because institutions and governance structures, rules and regulations confront actors according to gender. Property rights, value systems, informal ways of organising create diverse opportunities and challenges. Considering women's responsibilities for the daily management, provision and preparation of divers plants at stake, the need arises to integrate gender and institutional analysis.

This contribution focuses on the recent transition taking place in the institutional environment with special emphasis on the gender dimension. The Indian Government has introduced the ``Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act'' in 2001 and the ``Biodiversity Act'' in 2002, setting a formal framework for the management of the resource biodiversity. Central to this paper is the question how women concerns are reflected in theory as well as in practice and what kind of opportunities arise form this institutional evolution and its policies. It draws on empirical evidence from Kerala, South India, a hot spot of biological diversity. The identification of relevant actors and formal as well as informal institutions in the eco- and farming-system of paddy cultivation, sets the ground for a gender specific analysis of the governance structure determining the decisions over use and conservation of agricultural biodiversity. The paper introduces the natural resources at stake and the social and cultural organisation of biodiversity management in Southern India. Since the category gender is central to the question of equitable governance structures, its' integration into the framework for institutional analysis is made explicit. The focus is on the study of property rights, influencing the access and control of resources and power in decision making processes. The emerging governance structure reveals conflicts and co-operations, missing links and innovations. Results consider the theory of co-evolution of social and natural systems.

Keywords: Agrobiodiversity, gender, India, institutions

Full paper:


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Contact Address: Martina Padmanabhan, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institute of Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences (IWSL)Luisenstraße 56, 10099 Berlin, Germany, e-mail:
Andreas Deininger, September 2004