Dr. Bina Agarwal

International Scholar on Gender Equality and Agricultural Co-operatives to Visit Saskatoon

The Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives is excited to announce that internationally renowned scholar and award winning author, Dr. Bina Agarwal, will be visiting Saskatoon. Dr. Agarwal has written extensively on land and livelihoods; environment and development; poverty and inequality; and agricultural co-operatives, especially from a gender perspective.

By Stan Yu, Research and Communications Coordinator, the Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

Thanks to the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Ambassador Program (Incoming) grant, the Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives (CCSC) is excited to announce that internationally renowned scholar, Dr. Bina Agarwal, will be visiting Saskatoon.

Dr. Agarwal is a Professor of Development Economics and Environment at the University of Manchester and an award-winning author who has written extensively on land and livelihoods; environment and development; poverty and inequality; and agricultural co-operatives, especially from a gender perspective. She has held distinguished positions at many universities including Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, Michigan, and Minnesota. Her award-winning book, A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia, pioneered the importance of women owning land. It had a strong impact on the thinking of governments, NGOs, and international agencies, and catalyzed a global call for action to promote women’s land rights, including in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The CCSC recently sat down with Dr. Agarwal to ask her a few questions about her research and her upcoming visit.

For those more unfamiliar with your research, can you broadly describe your program of research? What is the research question that motivates and energizes you?  

My research has focused on 3 broad themes: agricultural change, property and land rights, and environmental governance, especially from the perspective of the most disadvantaged – the poor and women. I am especially interested in research that has policy relevance and can provide new pathways to improve people’s lives.

At present, I am exploring whether farming in groups rather than individually can bring gains to farmers. In developing countries, it could help small holders (i.e. small producers), especially women, overcome their resource constraints and create viable and sustainable livelihoods. But even in developed countries, say in Europe, UK, and Canada, it is possible that farmer cooperation could prove to be economically and socially beneficial.

Your research on gender equality is rich and extensive. After decades of research, what are the salient challenges regarding gender equality that you continue to see?  

There continues to be vast gender gaps in all economic spheres – employment, wages, wealth– but especially in the ownership of agricultural land. In India, for example, I led a civil society campaign in 2005 to amend the Hindu Inheritance law to make it gender equal. Some 80% of Indian women now have the same inheritance rights as their brothers in all property. But, in practice, my recent research shows that even a decade after the law was passed, women own only 11% of agricultural land. Indian women are still not seen by parents as legitimate claimants to immovable property like land, despite their enormous contribution to agriculture, and despite the substantial evidence that assets in women’s hands improves both their welfare and children’s welfare more than assets in men’s hands. Social norms and perceptions need to change.

Your recent research on farmer co-operatives argues that group farming can provide an effective alternative model for farmers in South Asia. What do you see are the similarities and differences with farmer co-operatives/collectives/group farming in South Asia and the context in Canada?

I am actually here to learn more about farming collectives in Canada. Hopefully, I will be able to answer this question more effectively after my visit! For now, I will say this: the context is clearly very different. Here, farms are much larger and much more mechanised than in South Asia. In South Asia, land is scarce, so pooling land to take advantage of economies of scale can pay dividends. In Canada, there may be a different logic for farmers to cooperate. Perhaps it could help save on labour in livestock production as I found in France and Norway, or sharing large expensive machinery could bring economic benefits, as I have noted in the UK. In any case, I will have more answers after my visit!

You are spending some time here in at the University of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives. What motivated you to come here? What do you hope to learn?

During my research on agricultural cooperatives, I was looking for examples beyond South Asia, including in Europe and other countries. While probing this, I came across several studies that had been published at the Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives. Indeed it was fascinating that an entire Centre was devoted to a topic I was so interested in. I therefore thought it would be very fruitful to meet and talk with faculty members here and with the wider academic community at the University about their understanding of why farmers cooperate (or cease to do so). I also hope to talk to some Canadian farmers who are, or have been, in cooperative ventures, to understand how the Canadian model differs from the South Asian. This is a question you had also raised and I hope to learn enough during this visit to answer it more effectively.

What do you see are the lessons from your research on co-operatives that you would like to share with the University of Saskatchewan community, and residents of Saskatchewan at large?  

I am really excited to share the idea that pooling resources and farming cooperatively can provide an alternative model of farming and it needs serious consideration. I also think that groups are better placed than individuals in dealing with the challenges of climate change - for improving soils, conserving water bodies, and enhancing biodiversity. Today, many people are talking about agro-ecological farming and moving away from monoculture. For this, again, we need cooperation within communities.

Moreover, cooperation can bring communities together socially. This used to be the case - even up to the 1980s. Cooperation enables communities to better deal with crises. COVID-19, climate change, and regional conflicts have all brought home our interdependence nationally and globally. Interdependence propels cooperation.

During her visit, Dr. Agarwal will be speaking at an event, to be announced over the coming days, as well as the CCSC’s next Monthly Brown Bag. Please stay tuned on the CCSC’s website for those announcements.

For more information, contact:

Stan Yu
Research and Communications Coordinator, Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives