Brief Summary of the Project - Resources, greenhouse gases, technology and jobs in India's informal economy - the case of rice

This is an ESRC-DFID funded pilot project, contributing to research on low carbon transitions. It develops a set of micro-level methods that can be usefully applied elsewhere, including in advanced economies. Informal economies, however, have been completely neglected in the debates about climate change and the long awaited materials revolution. Yet in S Asia alone, India’s informal economy accounts for roughly 60% GDP and 9 out of every 10 jobs.  Statistical information about the informal economy is poor and unsystematic – necessitating research that is field-based.

Official policy engages with the informal economy at best directly and in ways that are relatively poorly understood. In addition, policy itself is known to be permeated by informal politics.

How a low carbon transition might engage with informality is the question at the heart of this pilot.

This project develops a series of methods for the first-hand study of the materiality of the informal economy. We focus on greenhouse gases (GHGs) (in CO2e), energy and water as indicators of materiality, on labour conditions and on the structure of costs and profits.

Our case studies are rice production-distribution systems (intensive, SRI, rainfed and organic production; plus the partially regulated, private, post-harvest system; supermarket supply chains; and the state’s public distribution system) in three states of India: Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Rice was chosen not because it is regarded as a big polluter (though when the entire food system is combined with land-based activity they may together account for some 33—45% of global greenhouse gas emissions) but because of the research team’s familiarity with this sector, its complexity both in terms of social organisation and GHG emissions, the poor quality of much employment associated with its production and distribution and the fact that its production-distribution systems weave in and out of the informal economy.

So as well as developing transferable methodologies, the project contributes new substantive knowledge about the rice system.

The methods fuse Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) with Value or Supply Chain Analysis (VCA/SCA). Then, having thereby identified labour blackspots and GHG hotspots, Multi-Criteria Mapping (MCM) enables an interactive public consultation with stakeholders about options to reduce GHGs, change the nature of work, and retain profitability.

Our methodological contribution is thus ‘LCA-VCA-MCM’.

It has a great potential for flexibility in further applications.