Amit John kurien
Shifting Cultivation, Agricultural Intensification, and Livelihood Sustainability: Causes and Consequences of Forest-Agrarian Transformations in Meghalaya, Northeast India
I am interested in human-environment relations within the forest-agrarian context in tropical landscapes and among societies there with a keen interest in processes of agricultural intensification, deforestation, and degradation. My PhD focuses on agricultural intensification in shifting cultivation (jhum/ swidden) landscapes. I examine this contentious and hard-to-map land-use, the complex set of causes spanning across space and time that affect intensification of shifting cultivation, and its consequences for people's livelihood strategies, sustainability, and equity in Garo hills, Meghalaya in Northeast India. I study the linkages between social and ecological factors operating at household- and village-level and landscape-level, and its relevance in explaining the twin-sides of the decline as well as the curious persistence of shifting cultivation, nature of forest cover, and livelihood sustainability, with a keen interest in contributing to land management and policy. The study is framed within the context of a changing rural landscape with active modifications to shifting cultivation, indigenous village societies in sociocultural transition, historical continuities of inter-continental trade and regional market linkages, and contemporary changes in the political economy of Northeast India. Such a study has meant a spirited espousal of interdisciplinary research frameworks and insights from multiple theoretical strands and the need for methodological pluralism. I use remote sensing and GIS, archival data, and qual-quant social science methods in my work, and I am a botanist-conservation biologist by early training.
Dr. Sharachchandra Lele, Distinguished Fellow in Environmental Policy & Governance, is my Ph.D. guide. Along with him, my Doctoral Advisory Committee consists of Dr. A.R. Vasavi, currently, an independent social anthropologist who prematurely retired from the School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, Dr. Harini Nagendra, Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, and Dr. Nitin D. Rai, Fellow, Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation at ATREE.
- Kurien, A.J. (co-authors undecided): On interpreting the social and environmental causes of agricultural intensification in West Garo Hills, India (title undecided). Paper in preparation. Submitting to an Anthropology/ Development Studies journal
- Kurien, A.J., Lele, S., Nagendra, H. (2019) Farms or Forests? Understanding and mapping shifting cultivation using the case study of West Garo Hills, India, Land, 8(9): 133 [FULL PDF] [BRIEF]
- Lele, S and Kurien, A. (2011) Interdisciplinary analysis of the environment: insights from tropical forest research. Environmental Conservation, 38(2): 1-23. [FULL PDF]
Book chapters (upcoming)
- Kurien, A.J. (20XX) Land tenure change as farmer innovation with complex outcomes in West Garo Hills, India, in Malcolm Cairns (20XX) Farmer Innovations and Best Practices by Shifting Cultivators in Asia-Pacific. CABI publication.
- Kurien, A. 2011. Old Trajectories & New Strategies. Current Conservation, 4(4):03.
- Kurien, A. 2007. 14° North, 104° East - Unveiling the Cambodian Plains. Sanctuary Asia, June: 50-57.[PDF]
Outreach of work [by journalists]:
- Mongabay India (2020) Shifting cultivation most extensive land use in West Garo Hills: study
- Econe (2020) The Need to Revise FSI’s Mapping Techniques for Shifting Cultivation
Presentations and papers delivered
- 2019. 'Shifting cultivation intensification and fragmentation in the Garo Hills: complex drivers and differentiated outcomes', Shortlisted full-length paper presented at the Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS)-College of Humanities and Development Studies (COHD-CAU)-Future Agricultures Consortium Writeshop-Workshop in Critical Agrarian Studies and Scholar-Activism in Beijing, China, 1-7th July 2019.
- 2019. 'Farms or Forests? Methodological insights into and results of mapping shifting cultivation landscapes', Poster presented at the South/Southeast Asia Research Initiative (SARI) Sustainable Forestry in South Asia – Current Status, Science and Conservation Priorities 7-9th November 2019, New Delhi, India.
- 2019. 'Empirical insights on Intensification of shifting cultivation: preliminary findings from a Garo village', presentation at Student Annual Seminar (SAS) 2019, January 2019.
- 2017. 'Mapping the extent and pattern of shifting cultivation in West Garo Hills, Northeast India', Poster presented at ATREE 20th year anniversary conference, 2017, Bangalore
- 2015. Forests of the mind: Contesting official forest representations in a shifting cultivation (jhum) landscape in Garo hills, India. Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS). 10 September 2015, Bangalore.
- 2014. Re-examining the shifting cultivation-deforestation debate to understand forest-agricultural transformations in Garo hills. Jan 2014, Graduate workshop on Environment and Development: New Frontiers of Research on North-East India, by Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, Assam, INDIA.
- Cambodia: Examining the status quo – an outsider's perspective. April 2008. Presentation on the links between ecological and socio-political history and conservation in Cambodia, made to Ph.D. students and researchers at Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
- Beyond village relocation – Response of tiger (Panthera tigris), prey species and their habitat in Rajaji National Park, India. March 2007. Presentation made at the inaugural conference of the Asian chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, Mahabalipuram, India.
- Do tigers shy away from people? What happens when people stop living in a tiger habitat? – A case study from the Shivaliks of Uttaranchal. September 2005. Presentation made at the XIXth Annual Research Seminar of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.
- Duleep Matthai Nature Conservation Fellowship (2013-2015): 'Shifting Cultivation and Landscape change in Meghalaya, Northeast India: Causes and Consequences'
- Save the Tiger Fund (2005-2007)
Grant name: Tiger Response to Prey and Human Disturbance (Grant no. 2005-0013-027)
Work and research experience
- Trainer-Advisor (April-June 2006), Wildlife Conservation Society, Cambodia for a line transect Distance sampling-based wildlife survey and monitoring project in the Preah Vihear Protected Forest, Northern Cambodia. Work included survey designing, training of forest staff, implementation and statistical analysis of the data collected.
- Project Assistant (Dec 2007–June 2009), Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science. Coordinating an Indo-Norwegian project on Wildlife-Human Conflict in India.
- Editorial Assistant (April-Dec 2007), with Conservation and Society - a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary, and open-access journal based in Bangalore, India www.conservationandsociety.org.
- Undertook an independent ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants and recorded the honey hunting practices of the Kurumba and Irula tribes in the tropical evergreen forests of Nilgiris, South India (April 2001).