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“Ginger is a gamble”

Crop booms, rural uncertainty, and the neoliberalization of agriculture in South India

Daniel Münster

Keywords: agrarian crisis; agricultural anthropology; boom crops; ginger; Kerala; neoliberalism; political ecology; risk and speculation

Responding to agrarian crisis at home, cash crop cultivators hailing from the South Indian district of Wayanad increasingly engage in the seasonal production of ginger in other states of India. This is a purely profit-based and unsustainable crop boom that takes a toll on both labor and the environment. This ethnographic analysis of speculative ginger cultivation situates this emerging economic complex in the regional political ecology, farming practices, individual farmers' hopes and aspirations, and in relation to the qualities of ginger as a cultivar. It argues that ginger is a special kind of boom crop and that its cultivation on large tracts of leased land is the manifestation of a moment of agrarian uncertainty and the neoliberalization of agriculture in South India coproduced by the properties of ginger. As a neoliberal boom crop, ginger exemplifies a regime of flexibilization of agrarian accumulation that has proved a profitable move for some, but has brought financial ruin and debt traps for many others.

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