Understanding Access to Agrarian Knowledge Systems: Perspectives from Rural Karnataka

Harpreet Kaur, Arjun Srinivas, Amir Bazaz | 2021


In this paper, we attempt to unpack the existing landscape of agricultural extension services and delve into questions of access to and localisation of knowledge to understand how these conditions (access and localisation) determine climate change adaptation in agriculture in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Our empirical findings suggest that the current extension framework reproduces existing inequalities in that access to institutional knowledge and its uptake is linked to one’s social location, that is, caste, gender, class, and geographic location, and information shared is neither timely nor contextually relevant. Employing accessibility and localization as lenses of inquiry, we argue from empirical evidence that smallholder farmers in a rain-fed context are especially vulnerable to the risks posed by climatic change and hence agricultural extension (with climate-informed knowledge) should be to be seen as a critical enabler of adaptation; ensuring accessibility and localisation, we argue, strengthens climate services, and by extension, enables adaptation to climatic risks. The issues that encumber effective extension, we contend, can be mitigated by a re-imagination of agricultural extension, one that privileges public field level functionaries as conduits between state departments and farmers over other modes, and enables structured involvement of community collectives as vehicles to address local needs and ensure access. Drawing on interventions in our study sites, we make a case for promoting knowledge systems that ensure access to climate-specific agricultural information and contextual embeddedness.