Food sovereignty movements are part of a growing trend of alternative agricultural movements that are based on the notion of local autonomy, whereby food production, distribution and consumption are controlled by local communities with the aim of increasing farmers' control over their farming practices and thus their lives. The main objective of this research is to understand the roles of localized social movements in mediating the impacts of neoliberal economic policies in poor rural regions. Using a political ecology framework that examines how global and local processes interact along with an understanding of the history of agrarian transitions in the region, this research uses the Deccan Development Society food sovereignty initiative in the "hunger belt" of India as a case study. The main questions are: What institutions have been crucial to food sovereignty movements? How do they develop, what sorts of changes do they bring about, and how are they networked? Who are the primary beneficiaries of food sovereignty? What is the impact of food sovereignty on farmers in their particular agroecological environments? What attitudes do diverse interest groups have toward food sovereignty initiatives? This research uses both quantitative and qualitative data including census data, surveys, participant observation, in-depth interviews, institutional rules and regulations, and policies. Analysis includes quantitative (statistical) and ethnographic (discourse and content analysis) methods that will allow for both an in-depth understanding of a specific local context as well as an appreciation of the broader implications of food sovereignty for food security and rural livelihoods. The findings are expected to support the hypothesis that, where food sovereignty institutions address the diverse socioeconomic needs of small farmers and are embedded within their cultural norms and where marginalization and the dependence on agriculture is high, food sovereignty movements are most effective in alleviating agrarian distress.
The research will contribute to the growing literature on agrarian transitions, alternative agriculture and localized social movements, with respect to the impact of global agro-food regimes on the rural poor. By drawing attention to the interrelated issues of gender, class/caste, access to resources, and food security this research will highlight the political and gendered struggles in local agricultural systems within the increasingly corporate face of food production. Most studies of contemporary agrarian transitions in Asia have focused on the inevitability of the market's growing reach into the countryside, and the ways in which small farmers are adapting to this global phenomenon. However, little is known with regard to the role of localized social movements in affecting agrarian transitions. In the face of the current global world food crisis, and its implications for food security, this research serves to enhance our understanding of contemporary alternatives to participating in the neoliberal global agro-food regime. The broader impacts of investigating localized agricultural systems that espouse food sovereignty principles opens avenues for participation of highly marginalized and underrepresented groups, such as the Dalit (untouchable) and other poor farmers, in the development discourse generally dominated by state institutions and world markets.