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University of Pennsylvania (1989)

A gamble on the monsoon : Coping with seasonality and drought in Western India

Chen, Martha Alter

Titre : A gamble on the monsoon : Coping with seasonality and drought in Western India

Auteur : Chen, Martha Alter

Université de soutenance  : University of Pennsylvania

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 1989

Résumé
Rural households, particularly in the semi-arid areas of India, routinely plan for and manage uncertainty, including both regular seasonal and periodic drought-induced shortages. However, the literature on rural India has not paid sufficient attention to how people cope with uncertainty. This study presents empirical evidence from a single village in a semi-arid region of Western India on the strategies adopted by different types of households to cope with regular seasonality and drought conditions (specifically, the 1985-87 drought). The study is based on two different but complementary data sets : one quantitative (using survey instruments) ; the other qualitative (using ethnographic methods). The aim was to design survey instruments based on insights and hypotheses generated by preliminary ethnography and to use ethnographic methods to investigate elusive or complex topics. The main surveys, conducted three times during the study year, included : an agro-economic survey ; a time allocation survey ; a household food consumption survey ; and a survey of household consumption of fuel, fodder, and water. The main qualitative methods included life-histories, case-studies of selected resources and institutions, genealogies, and participant observation. Given the gradual erosion of the traditional social security system, demographic pressures on local resources and occupations, and the absence of government social security except under conditions of severe shortage, the village economy remains vulnerable despite moderate growth and development. Seasonal fluctuations and overall shortages heighten this vulnerability. During the 1987 drought, government relief works proved effective in reducing local vulnerability. However, whereas the government generally responds to drought conditions, regular seasonal fluctuations draw little, if any, official attention of response. During the slack winter season each year, when local labor opportunities are low, at least one-sixth of the households in the study village migrate for wage labor. The study argues that droughts need to be analyzed not only as short-term isolated phenomena but also as longer-term repeated phenomena which, together with seasonal fluctuations, help determine rural livelihood options and patterns.

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