Dr Shailaja Fennell, PhD supervisor at the Centre of Development Studies and the Department of Land Economy, interviewed by Durganand Balsavar (The Hindu)

Dr Shailaja Fennell, PhD supervisor at the Centre of Development Studies and the Department of Land Economy, interviewed by Durganand Balsavar (The Hindu)

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published Published on Oct 23, 2020   modified Modified on Oct 24, 2020

-The Hindu

New research at University of Cambridge focuses on rural knowledge systems and sustainable practices to safeguard the ecosystem

An academic with research interests in food production, rural development and gender equality in development interventions, Shailaja Fennell has worked on several international projects to promote sustainability and build resilience. She supervises M.Phil students at the Centre of Development Studies – University of Cambridge, and Ph.D students at the Centre of Development Studies and the Department of Land Economy. Currently engaged in a research programme to study how to improve crop productivity and water use, and identify farming practices for sustainable rural development, Dr. Fennell talks about institutional change and using indigenous knowledge systems to build long-term resilience in our ecosystems. Excerpts:

* In the context of heat waves and water shortage that the Indian subcontinent is facing, how does the research at Centre for Development Studies – University of Cambridge address this predicament to build resilience?

Climate change is a reality we need to collectively address across the planet. Based at the Department of Land Economy and Centre of Development Studies, my research has focussed on institutional change to bring about sustainability solutions. The emphasis is on building resilience through participation and empowerment. A core aspect of such an inclusion is bringing households and communities into the development process.

The research examines water-saving crops, alternative sources of energy and new opportunities in livelihood and education to remote rural communities. It is a more holistic notion of resilience and self-reliance.

* Given the various speculative scenarios for the future, and the mirage of urban utopias driven by technology, how does your research address the complexity of neglected rural hinterlands?

Until now, a large part of the development agenda around the world has tended to focus on cities.

In contrast, the work being undertaken across faculties of biological, physical and social sciences shifts the focus towards recognising that sustainability is more important for rural communities, that are often far away from these urban growth centres.

These communities are considerably disadvantaged in their access to education and health and other basic services. They are also finding it increasingly difficult to ensure adequate livelihoods through farming activities. Hence, our focus is on cross-disciplinary research, that can bring new thinking to improve the food-water-energy ecosystem, in rural and peri-urban areas. This ensures that rural communities can access new services and skills. They co-create avenues to empower youth through new diversified forms of employment, besides farming.

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Image Courtesy: Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge

The Hindu, 23 October, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/were-learning-from-the-shortcomings-of-the-first-green-revolution-academic-shailaja-fennell/article32928244.ece?homepage=true

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