Small is beautiful? Rural transformation and production networks of tea smallholdings in Assam, India

Small is beautiful? Lecture held by Stefan Schütte on 2. Dezember 2020

Tea garden, Claudius Guenther 2020

India’s tea plantation sector is in deep crisis. Significant changes in the structure of global value chains for tropical commodities transformed the Indian tea industry, where tea production in industrial plantations is partly augmented by smallholder cultivation. Against this background, a research project carried out by the Centre for Development Research at FU Berlin aims to perform an in-depth and empirically informed analysis of production networks in the small tea-growing sector of Assam. It aims to explore the distinct patterns of regional agrarian transformation, to examine changing local agricultural practices and agrarian relations and their impacts on local conflict configurations. Three perspectives guide the project:

1) The examination of smallholder production networks in the tea-growing sector as key to better understand regional transformation and agricultural change.

2) Basic empirical research about social practices in smallholder tea cultivation and production.

3) Contributions to the nexus of agrarian relations and peace geographies.

These perspectives allow for a holistic assessment of the smallholder turn in Assam tea production as a recent phenomenon. A better and empirically informed understanding of local relations of production and its embeddedness in local society, culture, economy and conflict promises new insights into the discussion about commodity chains and production networks and their relations to peace geographies. Such an understanding also helps to assess the political, social and economic repercussions of a comprehensive rural transformation.

Stefan Schütte has been Assistant Professor at the Centre for Development Studies at the Institute of Geographical Sciences at Freie Universität Berlin since 2008. He has a PhD in Geography from the University of Heidelberg and an MA in Geography and Economy from the University of Oldenburg, Germany. He has conducted fieldwork in rural and urban India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for a total of more than seven years, in numerous visits beginning in 1997, and is proficient in Dari, Hindi, and Urdu. His research focuses on urban and rural development, the management of natural resources, and human security.

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