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Amrita Kurian


Amrita Kurian is a lecturer in sociocultural Anthropology at UC San Diego. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from UC San Diego and an M.Phil. in Sociology from Delhi University. Her research interests include expertise, knowledge-production, political economy, peasant and labor relations in commercial agriculture, and South Asia.




Non-Tobacco Related Materials: The Politics of Contamination in Experts’ Standardization of Agri-commodities in India

This article examines how peasant farmers in rural Andhra Pradesh contest experts’ standardization of agri-commodities in India. The production and marketing of Flue-Cured Virginia (FCV) or cigarette tobacco is heavily regulated by the Central Government of India and closely monitored by national tobacco companies. In representating competing mandates and goals, experts of the Indian state and tobacco companies apply techno-rational standards to improve the quality of FCV tobacco sold out of India, with a view towards increasing its desirability in international markets. One of the more recent of a series of frequently updated standards is the qualifier ‘clean’ tobacco’, wherein the presence of Non-Tobacco Related Materials (NTRMs) in tobacco bales on the auction floor results in lower sale prices. The discovery of unauthorized pesticide residues or Crop Protection Agents (CPAs) post-sale by importing traders can also lead to the the cancellation of entire consignments. The article is an ethnographic study of how agri- standards that classify and grade tobacco bales are extended to their owners. Depending on the quality of their bales, experts variously categorize farmers as ‘lazy’ and ‘uneducated’ or shower them with accolades as ‘progressive’ farmers. Faced with stagnant demand and environmental degradation, farmers on their part contest these top-down hierarchies by differentially aligning with state and tobacco companies to mobilize politically and agitate. In this way farmers are able to sequester profits and bypass caste biases inherent in the implementation of standards

Affiliation: UC San Diego, USA