Making It Too Simple? Researchers, Recommendations, and NGOs in the Sundarbans, Indian West Bengal


  • Cathy Rozel Farnworth Freelance Consultant
  • Mette Vaarst Aarhus University



Indian West Bengal, Interdisciplinary Research, Livelihoods, Sustainable Agriculture


The authors are members of an international study team that conducted research on one of the islands making up the Sundarbans region of West Bengal in India in September 2008. This was at the request of two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), one European and one Indian, which have partnered with each other to bring long-term development to this desperately poor area. The purpose of the research was to analyze existing agricultural practices and to develop recommendations for the two partner NGOs on how to work with farmers toward more sustainable, low-input farming systems that would contribute to poverty alleviation and simultaneously address some of the serious challenges of climate change affecting the lives of millions living in this low-lying region.

This paper brings together personal reflections by two members of the study team upon the research process and, more particularly, on the take-up of recommendations. The starting point for this paper is the observation that the recommendations were implemented by the two NGOs with more concern for meeting the needs of the NGOs, rather than the needs of the farmers the research was ultimately intended to serve. Follow-up visits after six and 18 months showed that an organic demonstration farm had been developed in preference to rolling out recommendations aimed at supporting change in farming practice on individual farms and on involving people with the most precarious livelihoods. The paper explores the bumpy nature of the relationship between the researchers, the two NGOs, and the intended ultimate beneficiaries.


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Author Biographies

Cathy Rozel Farnworth, Freelance Consultant

Freelance consultant on gender, agriculture, and value chains based in Germany.

Mette Vaarst, Aarhus University

Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Aarhus University, P.O. Box 50, DK – 8830 Tjele, Denmark; +45 22901344.



How to Cite

Farnworth, C. R., & Vaarst, M. (2012). Making It Too Simple? Researchers, Recommendations, and NGOs in the Sundarbans, Indian West Bengal. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2(4), 137–146.



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