Fraser Sugden

Colleges, School and Institutes

External positions


Research interests

While Dr Sugden’s research interest is rooted in broadly agrarian geography and environmental change, he has pursued leads of enquiry in three overlapping themes. A first long standing field of interest is on agrarian formations which fall outside the sphere of capitalism in the traditional sense, in particular, South Asian landlordism. A long running thread in his research has been on the evolution and reproduction of rural class relations as older agrarian formations interact with capitalist labour and product markets. He has been engaged extensively in debates over land reform, and the larger ‘Agrarian Question’ in South Asia, including its social, political and economic implications, and the legacy of colonial and pre-colonial state formations on contemporary relations of production.

A second strand of research is focused on climate change resilience for farmers and the tensions between physical water scarcity linked to drought, and access constraints rooted in the relations of production. This culminated in cutting edge action research with grassroots partners in Nepal, Bihar and West Bengal to pilot radical new forms of economic and political organization through farmer collectives ( Fraser is committed to interdisciplinary research, and works regularly with agricultural engineers, agronomists and hydrologists to address the technological (as well as social) barriers to agricultural intensification amongst the land poor majority in South Asia.

A final interest is on the shifting roles of rural women, men and youth as they manage land and water resources in the context of environmental change, economic restructuring and migration. Migration and the impact of demographic change on agrarian relations and land management has been a recent research focus. When he was with IWMI, Dr Sugden was instrumental in establishing the MARIS network (, which aims to promote and expand new research and dialogue on rural out-migration and its implication for the agrarian sector. This paved the way for a 3 year Horizon 2020 project on which Fraser is co-I, AGRUMIG ‘Migration governance and agricultural & rural change in ‘home’ communities: comparative experience from Europe, Asia and Africa’. This seven country project includes cases from China, Ethiopia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Thailand.

Regionally, Fraser’s research for the last 12 years has been focused on the Eastern Gangetic Plains, in particular, Nepal’s Tarai-Madhesh and the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal. However, he has also conducted extended rural fieldwork in the Nepal Himalaya, South China, Vietnam and Bangladesh, and he has recently initiated research in the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands.

He has secured research funding from a diverse range of sources, including the following recent grants:

Co-applicant with SOAS and IWMI for Horizon 2020 grant, Leaving something behind’ - Migration governance and agricultural & rural change in ‘home’ communities: comparative experience from Europe, Asia and Africa. Funded by European Commission. Feb 2019, €3,000,000

Lead applicant for Improving Dry Season Irrigation for Marginal and Tenant Farmers in the Eastern Gangetic Plains. Funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Sep 2014, Aus$2,200,000

Lead applicant for Migration Matters II: An Asia Policy Dialogue on Gender, Water and Agriculture. Funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and Stockholm Environment Institute (Proposal ranked No 1 out of 84 applications).  Aug 2016, US$36,000

Co-applicant with Wageningen University for Gender Squares and Poverty Circles: Unravelling agriculture gaps, challenges and opportunities in the Eastern Gangetic Plains’ (Bangladesh, India, Nepal). Funded by CGIAR research programme on Water Land and Ecosystems, Focal Regions fund, Jan 2014, US$739,501


Dr Fraser Sugden is a human geographer who has written extensively on shifting class, gender and generational relations in agriculture, and their interaction with contemporary climatic, agro-ecological, political and economic stresses. He completed his PhD on land relations in Nepal’s Tarai-Madhesh from the University of Edinburgh, after which he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Stirling. Prior to joining Birmingham University, he was a Senior Researcher at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Kathmandu, part of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). With IWMI he was also the country representative for Nepal and was the Gender, Youth and Inclusion leader for the global CGIAR research programme on Water, Land and Ecosystems. He maintains a Visiting Scientist position at IWMI today.

In terms of regional knowledge, he has conducted intensive rural fieldwork across South and East Asia, with a focus on Nepal and the Eastern Gangetic Plains, and was based in this region for most of the last decade prior to joining the School. He maintains a commitment to interdisciplinary action research with strong engagement and partnership with civil society and organisations working at the grassroots.

Education/Academic qualification

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Edinburgh

    Agrarian Change and Pre-capitalist Reproduction on the Nepal Terai

    2007 - 2009

Professional Qualifications

  • MSc by Research in Human Geography,

    2005 - 2006

Willingness to take PhD students