Special section: Performing development roles: theorizing agriculture as performance edited by Andrew Flachs

Performing alternative agriculture: critique and recuperation in Zero Budget Natural Farming, South India



This article explores how 'Zero Budget Natural Farming', an Indian natural farming movement centered on its founder and guru Subhash Palekar, enacts alternative agrarian worlds through the dual practices of critique and recuperation. Based on fieldwork among practitioners in the South Indian state of Kerala and on participation in teaching events held by Palekar, I describe the movement's critique of the agronomic mainstream (state extension services, agricultural universities, and scientists) and their recuperative practices of restoring small-scale cultivation based on Indian agroecological principles and biologies. Their critique combines familiar political-ecological arguments against productionism, and the injustices of the global food regime, with Hindu nationalist tropes highlighting Western conspiracies and corrupt science. For their recuperative work, these natural farmers draw, on one hand, on travelling agroecological technologies (fermentation, spacing, mulching, cow based farming) and current 'probiotic', microbiological, and symbiotic understandings of soil and agriculture. On the other hand, they use Hindu nativist tropes, insisting on the exceptional properties of agrarian species native to, and belonging to India. I use the idea of ontological politics to describe the movement's performances as enacting an alternative rural world, in which humans, other-than-human animals, plants, mycorrhizae, and microbes are doing agriculture together.

Keywords: agricultural anthropology, alternative agricultures, naturecultures, critique, ontological politics, small-scale cultivators, India, Kerala, Subhash Palekar

How to Cite: Muenster, D. (2018) “Performing alternative agriculture: critique and recuperation in Zero Budget Natural Farming, South India”, Journal of Political Ecology. 25(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v25i1.22388