Small millets-based livelihoods and actually existing markets in Andhra Pradesh, India

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Carson, Sarah
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The decline in cultivation and consumption of small millets crops seen across India in recent decades is a concern for many. These highly nutritious coarse grains hold significant cultural value as traditional foods for tribal farming populations and remain important contributors to regional agro-biodiversity. Born of out this concern, small millets have garnered recent attention as underutilized crops with potential to contribute to regional food and nutritional security through market development. By localizing small millets within the broader context of agricultural change, this work investigates links between cultivation, distribution and consumption – or the market chain – of small millet varieties in northern coastal Andhra Pradesh, India. Employing an interdisciplinary methodology drawing from anthropological and agribusiness approaches, this study conducts an in-depth, qualitative market chain analysis for finger millet and little millet varieties to produce a multi-sited ethnographic work on informal agricultural marketing in the case study area. In incorporating the political economic, historical and cultural dimensions of millets and other crops, this research teases out the complex relationships between food security, livelihoods, agricultural marketing and development interventions. This research aims to demonstrate how a holistic study of an agricultural commodity, which includes on-farm cultivation and consumption, can get at how smallholder farmers participate in local markets, in everyday practice, and how they engage with change. In connecting a traditional market chain analysis with detailed ethnographic study on the ground, we can see how farmers engage with markets embedded in particular historical and sociocultural contexts. Further, this work provides insights into the challenges of small millets-based livelihoods, going beyond the market to explore the many social institutions in which market participation is embedded. In doing so, I argue that nuanced approach to millets-based livelihoods, commercial crops and broader agrarian transition is necessary.
small millets, food security, ecology of practice, India