BioDIVA research project
A small piece in the puzzle of solving global challenges such as soil degradation, climate change and global nutrition: Dr Martina Padmanabhan's research aims to contribute to encouraging women in the Indian state of Kerala to use their traditional knowledge of rice cultivation to promote sustainability in agriculture: Agrobiodiversity, that is biological diversity in agriculture, is her focus topic.
The 42-year-old agricultural sociologist leads the international BioDIVA project at the Institute for Environmental Planning of Leibniz Universität Hannover. Dr Padmanabhan is heading a team of six young German and Indian researchers who are supported by three local researchers based almost ten thousand kilometres away in southern India.
What issue are you currently working on?
Martina Padmanabhan: The transformation knowledge, that is, knowledge that enables change, which we need to make sustainable use of biological diversity in agriculture in keeping with gender equity requirements.
How may the results of your research change our lives??
Martina Padmanabhan: Our research project aims in part to protect agrobiodiversity, which in this case means preventing the disappearance of rare varieties of rice. These have so far only been produced for the regional market. We are also considering a Fair Trade model under the BioDIVA project. How our research may change our lives? Perhaps by bringing the South Indian aromatic rice variety Gandhakasala to our tables, which would motivate Indian farmers to become involved in the development of their country.
How would you complete the following sentence? For me, sustainability means ...
Martina Padmanabhan: ... a visionary, determined search process which actively contributes to change.
The unscrupulous use of the term 'sustainability', for example by the automotive industry.
Dr. Martina Padmanabhan
What is surprising for a sustainability researcher?
Martina Padmanabhan: The unscrupulous use of the term 'sustainability', for example by the automotive industry.
Do you have any suggestions for sustainable behaviour in everyday life?
Martina Padmanabhan: Look for and enjoy happy, consumption-free moments.
The BioDIVA research project
Social scientists, economists and environmental experts of the BioDIVA research team are addressing the problem of increasing replacement of traditional rice cultivation by banana monocultures in the rural region of Kerala. As a result, soils are degrading and can no longer be used for farming, rare varieties of rice are disappearing, and people's basic source of food and income is dwindling.
Local women are the big losers in this process. Women have traditionally been central players in rice cultivation; they have the necessary knowledge and experience and contribute an essential share to their families' income. Cultivating and harvesting bananas on large plantations, however, is hard physical labour and actually a job for men. Labourers are no longer working for their own profit but for the plantation owners. The BioDIVA research project therefore aims to generate knowledge and instruments for a forward-looking approach in agriculture which strengthens the position of women.
The BioDIVA research team will use the findings of the project to compile an agrobiodiversity handbook which will serve as a toolkit for experts in other regions of the world.
Federal Research Ministry supports social-ecological research
The BioDIVA team is one of twelve junior research groups which are funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under the Research for Sustainability framework programme's social-ecological research priority (FONA/SÖF). This BMBF funding priority focuses particularly on the global perspective and the international dimension of research. It offers project funding for four-year periods as well as scientific coaching and provides for regular network meetings of the twelve leading junior researchers. The partners of the BioDIVA research project are the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai in southern India, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the International Food and Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC (USA).