Innovating at the margins: the System of Rice Intensification in India and transformative social innovation
Shambu C Prasad, Institute of Rural Management Anand
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I explore transformative social innovation in agriculture through a particular case of agroecological innovation, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in India. Insights from social innovation theory that emphasize the roles of social movements and the reengagement of vulnerable populations in societal transformation can help reinstate the missing “social” dimension in current discourses on innovation in India. India has a rich and vibrant tradition of social innovation wherein vulnerable communities have engaged in collective experimentation. This is often missed in official or formal accounts. Social innovations such as SRI can help recreate these possibilities for change from outside the mainstream due to newer opportunities that networks present in the twenty-first century. I show how local and international networks led by Civil Society Organizations have reinterpreted and reconstructed game-changing macrotrends in agriculture. This has enabled the articulation and translation of an alternative paradigm for sustainable transitions within agriculture from outside formal research channels. These social innovations, however, encounter stiff opposition from established actors in agricultural research systems. Newer heterogeneous networks, as witnessed in SRI, provide opportunities for researchers within hierarchical research systems to explore, experiment, and create newer norms of engagement with Civil Society Organizations and farmers. I emphasize valuing and embedding diversity of practices and institutions at an early stage to enable systems to be more resilient and adaptable in sustainable transitions.
civil society; innovation networks; social innovation theory; System of Rice Intensification
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