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Tropentag, September 18 - 20, 2019 in Kassel

"Filling gaps and removing traps for sustainable resources development"

Cardamom Production and the 'Good Life': Agricultural and Social Change in East Nepal

Marie-Luise Matthys

University of Bern, Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies, Switzerland


What is a 'good life'? In countless writings, Eastern and Western thinkers alike have dwelled on this fundamental philosophical question. Through implementing development policies, governments aim at making their citizens' lives better, thereby implicitly defining what a good life is. In everyday practices, citizens enact their own modes of life, each person holding an individual perspective of what makes one's life good. This research is about the interplay of philosophy, agricultural policy, and rural people's practical understandings of the “good life” in the context of agricultural development.

About a decade ago, farmers in East Nepal started taking up commercial cardamom production, an agricultural development strategy fostered by the Nepalese government. Today, cardamom is the major income source in the region, and everyday life is constantly changing. Is this development fostering “good lives”, according to the rural population? An innovative combination of qualitative methods including participatory photography is used to trace answers to this question, involving 58 respondents of different classes, genders, and castes.

Preliminary findings suggest that for the majority of respondents a “good life” is a life with few hardships, peaceful family relations, a good future for their children, substantive individual freedoms, as well as “sukha”, i.e. happiness or joy. Respondents argue that, in general, cardamom contributes to this kind of good life because its production requires less physical effort and yields more income than previous crops. Notably, the respondents view an increase in income not as an end in itself – instead, they value money as a useful means to foster the above dimensions of the “good life”.

However, the benefits of cardamom production are not equally distributed: limited availability of land and irrigation force numerous small-scale farmers to take up causal labour on wealthier people's farms, potentially exacerbating existing inequalities. In addition, respondents are worried about the spread of plant diseases jeopardising sustainability, which points to the farmers' dependency on the new cash crop. Most strikingly, wealthy and poor farmers alike do not want their children to continue agricultural production: eventually, a “good life” is the life of an employee residing in town .

Keywords: Agricultural change, commercialisation, good life, inequality, intersectionality, participatory photography

Contact Address: Marie-Luise Matthys, University of Bern, Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies, Mittelstrasse 43, 3012 Bern, Switzerland, e-mail: marie-luise.hertkorn@izfg.unibe.ch

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