Ambivalences of collective farming: feminist political ecologies from the Eastern Gangetic Plains

Stephanie Leder, Fraser Sugden, Manita Raut, Dhananjay Ray, Panchali Saikia

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New models of collective farming have been suggested as potentially useful approach for reducing inequality and transform peasant agriculture. In collectives, farmers pool land, labor, irrigation infrastructure, agricultural inputs and harvest to overcome resource constraints and to increase their bargaining power. Employing a feminist political ecology lens, we ask: to what extent can collective farming open up possibilities of empowerment for marginalized groups in smallholder agriculture? We examine the establishment of 18 farmer collectives by a research project in the Eastern Gangetic Plains, a region characterised by fragmented and small landholdings and a high rate of marginalised and landless farmers. We analyze ambivalances of collective farming practices with regard to (1) social relations across scales, (2) intersectionality and (3) emotional attachment. Our results in Saptari/ Eastern Terai in Nepal, Madhubani/Bihar, and Cooch Behar/West Bengal in India demonstrate how intra-household, group and community relations and emotional attachments to the family and neighbors mediate the redistribution of labor, land and capital. We find that gendered relations, intersected by class, age, ethnicity and caste, are reproduced in collective action and access to land and water, and argue that a critical feminist perspective can support a more reflective and relational understanding of collective farming processes. Our analysis demonstrates that feminist political ecology can compliment commons studies by providing meaningful insights on ambivalences around approaches such as collective farming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105–129
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of the Commons
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2019


  • Collective farming
  • feminist political ecology
  • peasant agriculture
  • India
  • Nepal
  • gender


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