Rural Himachal Against the World: A Few Thoughts

Nabhas Raj, AIF Fellow (Photo courtesy of Nabhas Raj)

The Banyan Impact Fellowship has brought me to Jagori Rural, a feminist organization operating in the foothills of the Himalayas. I arrived in the middle of October, and the past month here in Himachal Pradesh has been a mixture of personal and professional attempts to adapt to an environment that at times seems very familiar and sometimes alien. As I write this, there are too many thoughts in my head, a lot of which I am very unclear about. The uncertainties and the lack of clarity make it challenging to frame my thoughts but I strongly feel that before I settle in, and before the place is able to influence my perspectives, I should record my observations as an outsider. This blog is an attempt to do just that.

During the past month, Jagori hosted a bunch of researchers for a participatory research workshop on waste management. I was part of the host team and we worked with researchers from TISS Mumbai and Universities in South Africa to evolve actionable insights into waste management practices among rural communities in Kangra. While engaging with topics surrounding waste management, it was difficult to look away from the very obvious problem of soft plastic and its disposal. That train of thoughts led me to wonder how the lack of leniency from the side of a globalized, consumerist and urban culture has cornered the rural population into subscribing to the same practices. It’s a major question whether they were ready for such capitalist advances. I am inclined to believe they still are not. While neoliberalism has steadily penetrated the Indian economy over the past three decades, the large inflow of tourists and the habits they bring in, have perhaps accelerated this impact in rural economies that have been associated with the tourism sector.

The view that follows you everywhere – a quiet neighborhood in Rait, Himachal Pradesh. (All photos courtesy of the author)


The Changes That Tourism Brings In

The tourism sector is a major source of revenue, contributing around 7% of the state’s GDP. The scenic landscapes and the beautiful mountains host tourists throughout the year from all over. The popularity of the orientalist vision of Indian spirituality contributes to people coming in to ‘discover’ themselves in Himachal and the Himalayas. In many such ways, the Kangra district becomes a merging place for cultures from McLeod Ganj among the mountains to the potato fields of Pathiar. While the importance of income from tourism in the current economy cannot be dismissed, it’s important to acknowledge that the impact is varied and sometimes negative.

Many studies have been conducted on the impact of tourism on local economies. Even as the tourism industry adds to the rate of economic growth in a society, it also tends to lead to rising inequalities among class and caste groups. Sometimes the development of tourism happens at the expense of local communities, their commons, and their livelihoods. There have been numerous instances where local and indigenous communities were displaced or resettled to develop infrastructure under tourism projects. Tourism has several negative aspects such as uncontrolled resource utilization and rise in inflation due to the inflow of money. Major issues revolve around land utilization. In many cases, areas, where a number of the natural resources were treated as commons from which the entire community could benefit, are appropriated as resources for tourism infrastructure or accumulated by few due to the influence of tourism in real estate. The livelihood patterns are impacted in several ways. While new sources of employment arise as a result of tourism development, traditional sources tend to be sidelined by the community, thereby increasing their dependency on tourism, which is often seasonal. The income generated is often accumulated in the hands of few, and communities receive only what ‘trickles down’ to the lower strata of the economy. Many times, large resorts and hotels provide all kinds of services and attract the majority of travelers, leaving very little space for local enterprises in the sector. The environmental impacts of tourism are yet another chapter in the whole picture, but I do not want to get into that without sufficient research, data or experience.

Views that sell: a scenic tourist spot in Himachal.

From a socio-cultural perspective, the arrival of newer habits, practices, and also information, accelerates the evolution of host communities. The connection to the outside world through the regular arrival of people can bring about advancement in terms of technology and trade. But it also brings with it habits that are in a sense global, and which may not be adaptable to the local economies. This was something that I strongly felt during the workshop on waste management. Consumerism that was accelerated by advancements in tourism has brought in innumerable products in the form of packaged food, cosmetics, etc. Such practices, from the point of view of waste management, have brought in large amounts of plastic. In the absence of a proper system in place, the large inflow of materials, especially plastic, becomes a burden on the local community. While this is more or less the eventual outcome of globalization everywhere, tourism aggravates it. There is also much impact on the local cultures and traditions. Employment in tourism becomes an attractive proposition over local and sustainable livelihood methods. On the other hand, with proper investment, tourism has significantly benefitted art and culture. Traditional handicrafts, dance forms, etc. have received a push from the inflow of consumers. While the monetary benefits are significant, the actions tend to commodify local art forms to suit consumer preferences. There is much debate regarding the long-term impacts of such an evolution.

Agriculture in the New World

Himachal is largely a rural economy where around 90% of the population lives in rural areas, and agriculture for them is the most common source of income and livelihood. But in Himachal and India in general, the majority of the farmers are classified as small-scale farmers working on less than 2 hectares of land. Traditionally, the small farmers relied on local practices including crop rotation and employment of indigenous seeds for cultivation. The advancement of the green revolution has led to introduction of more industrialized practices in farming such as the usage of high-yield variety seeds, monocropping and application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Such practices have not only decreased the nutrient quality of the soil but also brought down sustainability in agricultural practices. The technology here brings down the possibilities in future production by bringing down the nutrient quality of the soil. The farmers are forced to invest in higher quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to sustain their annual yield.

While the large farmers benefitted during the early years of this transition, the small farmers were caught in a cycle of debt arising from high-interest loans they depended on for purchasing seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. They also do not hold enough bargaining power in the market up against the large farmers, the dealers of farm produce, or the suppliers of farming inputs. Various researchers maintain that technological advances in agriculture tend to bypass poorer farmers due to unfavorable circumstances, bad governance, and lack of proper access. The social security nets for farmers laid out by the state were supportive to a strong extent but many small farmers still struggled against geographical locations as well as against middlemen surrounding the ‘Mandis’. The difference in power and wealth has also led to the further accumulation of land by the large farmers which threatens to replace the family farms. As neoliberal power grows stronger, the threat of corporatization also looms around, as we witnessed during the recent protests against the farm bills passed by the central government in 2020.

While industrialization has severely affected agricultural practices in India, the uneven nature of impact should be acknowledged. During my limited experience here conducting a handful of surveys, I noticed that numbers of farmers own very little land, sometimes as low as 2 kanals (1 hectare = approx. 19.77 kanals). Very few produced enough surplus to be sold in the market. The rest of the farmers produced just enough for self-consumption. The human labour that they invest into agriculture, often that of the entire family, is not enough to cover their expenses in the household, and they are forced to search for additional sources of income in the labour market.

Along with these challenges, the ever-rising threat of global warming adds to the necessity to turn away from industrial practices that are not sustainable and also lacking in their ability to resist climate change. It’s high time that farmers be made capable of revisiting and reinventing traditional practices in crop selection and farming. Sustainable, localized practices in farming could enable farmers to move away from the grips of globalization, and effectively make small steps to resist the impacts of climate change. Through proper support from the state and by developing agri-value chains, this transition can be actualized. The SAFAL (Sustainable Agriculture, Forest, and Land) project seeks to bring about this change in perspective among the farmers of Kangra, and I hope to learn and contribute much in the coming 7-8 months here at Jagori.

It is difficult to entirely anticipate whether these changes will lead to better or worse, especially while observing my environment and attempting to make assumptions as an outsider based on my limited knowledge. But there are certain basic issues that a community must address, as there are numerous examples across the world where new habits and economic approaches have suppressed local culture and livelihood, eventually making those communities dependent on the modern consumerist culture. When capitalism attempts to create global citizens, people are not often aware of the changes it will bring into their own lives. We should attempt to sensitize people regarding the changes that a new economic policy might bring through in the long term. We should enable them to anticipate the slow outcomes of tourism development, technological advancements, and even minor cultural exchanges that occur in places that attract outsiders. Communities should be made capable of protecting their livelihood and being self-sufficient so that they can resist market forces wherever it is necessary.

About Himachal Pradesh: Information on Tourism, Industries, Geography. (n.d.). India Brand Equity Foundation.

Frent, C. (2016). An overview on the negative impacts of tourism. Revista de Turism – Studii Si Cercetari in Turism, 22.

Impact of Tourism: Tourism: Economy; Environment; Society. (n.d.).

Sebby, K. (2010). The Green Revolution of the 1960’s and Its Impact on Small Farmers in India. DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

TNN. (2022, March 14). Agri Sector Share In Hp Gsdp Down To 9.6% In Fy21 From 57.9% In Fy51 | Shimla News – Times of India. The Times of India.

About the Author:
Nabhas was born and raised in a small town in Kannur district of Kerala. He pursued his undergraduate education from Amrita University. He graduated in Electrical and Electronics Engineering in 2017, and later pursued a post-graduate degree in Development Policy and Practice, graduating in 2022. Irrespective of pursuing engineering, Nabhas always aspired to be a part of the development sector in India. After his graduation, he joined Goonj fellowship where he served the organization’s Kolkata chapter in 2019 and 2020. At Goonj, he worked on various campaigns on livelihood, education and menstrual hygiene. During his post-graduation, Nabhas also worked on internships and field projects, touching upon areas such as youth and employment, health, environmental conservation, etc. In his personal space, Nabhas enjoys reading non-fiction, watching cinema, playing football, etc. Through the fellowship journey, he hopes to deepen his knowledge regarding his interest areas and express himself through ideas.



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