Ambarish Karamchedu

Ambarish, who was born in India but has lived in Swindon, UK, since 2000, is a postgraduate researcher in Development Policy and Management. His thesis title is "Continuity, change or 'crisis'? The Political Economy of Agrarian Change in Telangana, South India from 1991-present".

On my background

Ambarish Karamchedu

I did my undergraduate degree in Geography at the University of Glasgow, then an MSc in International Development: Environment, Climate Change and Development at the Global Development Institute (GDI).

Agriculture was of particular interest to me due to its centrality as a livelihood for billions of people in developing countries. I wanted to investigate the trajectory of agricultural development and how it linked with the wider economic system, as developing countries look to shift to the service sector and industrial economies.

Piqued by this academic interest in agriculture, I did a three-month internship in Himachal Pradesh, India working for CORD, a rural development NGO. I worked on a government project on women farmer empowerment and spent time in the field looking at sustainable agricultural interventions and ways to diversify and improve the livelihood of women farmers.

It was then that I decided to further this stint by applying for a PhD after my undergraduate degree, choosing to focus on agricultural issues affecting smallholder farmers in India as I wanted to use my education to learn from farmers themselves and understand the difficulties they face on a day-to-day basis.

On my research

My research interests lie in the political economy of agricultural development and policy, observing the interaction between politics, technology and the environment, and looking at the power relations between different groups in an agrarian economy.

I am interested in interdisciplinary perspectives towards environmental change, looking at the politics, economics, history and geography behind environmental processes in agriculture.

My current research is a political economy analysis of agricultural change in Telangana, a state in South India since the early 1990s. I aim to understand the trajectories of agrarian change in the state for small and marginal farmers with less than two hectares of land.

The study hopes to learn how the context in which small and marginal farmers produce and operate in has changed in these past two decades in relation to credit, markets, technology and policy changes in the agricultural sector. More specifically, I want to look at the developments in groundwater irrigation in the state, and therefore the interaction of technology, politics and agriculture in farmers' day-to-day lives.

I want to observe how groundwater irrigation is used, and the politics behind its usage in farming. Using ethnographic methods, I will conduct long-term fieldwork for nine months at the village level to understand the lived realities of agriculture and groundwater irrigation and observe changes over a full agricultural year from the monsoon, through to the winter and summer seasons.

On my motivation

At the time of applying, the Global Development Institute (GDI) was third in the world for Development Studies.

Moreover, I highly regarded many of the academics, including Phillip Woodhouse, Bina Agarwal and Uma Kothari. The former two are world-leading academics in agriculture and development, and therefore I wanted an opportunity to work with them during my PhD.

I applied for an ESRC scholarship at Manchester and was incredibly fortunate and grateful to receive a four-year scholarship covering my master’s degree and PhD.

Additionally, I liked Manchester as a city, as it is similar to Glasgow where I did my undergraduate degree. The city is big, has a great history, and the people are very friendly.

On my aspirations

Academia is like investigative journalism, unearthing stories and observations about the world - but the critical and theoretical rigour of a researcher allows a more detailed understanding of real-life issues.

Pursuing a career in academia allowed me to conduct long-term ethnographic fieldwork, and interact and learn from farmers' experiences and the problems they face by living in villages for long periods of time.

A PhD and subsequent academic career will also hopefully enable me to pursue advocacy opportunities to nuance and critically contribute to the debate on agricultural development and policy and to further develop theory on agricultural development and change.

I hope to complement this by looking at alternative approaches to agriculture and different farmer-led innovations that are trying to address some of the difficulties facing farmers.