Aims and Methodology - Resources, greenhouse gases, technology and jobs in India's informal economy - the case of rice

The project is modelling the complexity of rice production and distribution systems.

Four distinctive production technologies and four channels of distribution, involving market and state – formal and informal economic and policy activities -  are being researched.

Production Systems:

· System of Rice Intensification (SRI)   -   in Andhra Pradesh

· Certified organic production   -   In Tamil Nadu

· Rainfed rice   -   in Odiha

· Intensive irrigated High Yield Varieties (HYV)   -   in Tamil Nadu

Distribution channels:

· Registered and partly regulated partly informal firms

· Supermarket supply chains

· India’s Public Distribution System (PDS)

-        all in Tamil Nadu.

This part of the project merges life cycle analysis (environmental science) with supply or value chain analysis (economics and management sciences).

The supply chain is being analysed in accounting (‘market’) prices but also in ‘social’ prices which un-distort subsidies and imperfections and show ‘true’ shadow prices of the activity and its environmental externalities.

Then, through scoping research and multi-criteria analysis/mapping, we have rigorously compared incommensurable trade-offs between costs, CO2 and the quantity and quality of jobs for alternatives which reduce GHGs and/or improve jobs.

Three cross-cutting themes also thread their way through this pilot project. They are needed because the methods from science and business do not allow for questions about informality in the economy and policy. They also require first-hand fieldwork to address and their general arguments are developed from case studies.

First we examine how technological innovation diffuses in the informal economy beyond state regulation. We need to research this question in order to examine whether, if India were to embark on  a low carbon transition, the fact that most  activity isn’t registered would hinder the diffusion of the innovations that would be necessary.

Second, we ask both how policies affect economic activity outside the politicised limits to their enforcement; and how official policies are affected by political and economic informality. These questions need researching first in order to contribute to unravelling aspects of the existing ‘unintended consequences’ of policy and second to suggest the kinds of institutional traps that technocratic policy formulation may not factor in as conditions for the successful implementation of policy.

Third, we ask whether and how workers in the informal economy are able to improve the terms and conditions of their work. The reason for this cross-cutting research is as follows.  Almost all workers in the informal economy – and a majority of workers inside formally registered firms – are not unionised. So the micro-political mechanisms by which the labour force improves its earnings and conditions and the shift in the distributive share way from labour and towards profits is resisted are of great importance if the low-carbon transition is also to address poverty – as both the UN and the G7 declare it should.