Biodiversity on Indian Cotton Farms: Field Notes from Andrew Flachs

by Erika Zambello

In 21st century agricultural practices, monoculture dominates. “Most commercial agriculture around the world comes in the form of monocultures, where whole fields are devoted to a single plant,” Andrew Flachs writes in a new article at Voices for Biodiversity, “Monocultures are stark landscapes, built around the logic of factories rather than the logic of farmers or forests.”

However, farmers in the Telangana region of India have begun to embrace biodiversity on their farms, planting other crop varieties and reducing reliance on genetically modified varieties, like cotton.

Why? Because biodiversity has its benefits: “Biodiverse fields take up and replenish a variety of nutrients, and attract a set of plants and animals that don’t need chemical help to sustain themselves over the years. Under the right conditions, diversity of plants in an agricultural space helps to prevent soil erosion, attract predators who feed on agricultural pests, supplement food security and provide a reservoir of plant life to spread out the risk of over-relying on a single crop for one’s livelihood,” Flachs continues.

Organic Farmers

Flachs highlights the work of Chetna Organic, an Indian organic cotton company working to provide both technical knowledge and incentives for Indian farmers interested in trying to manage their land for more biodiversity. Instead of one crop, farmers plant an average of 26 other plants in their cotton fields, including: “foods, medicines, ornamental flowers and heirloom staple grains such as sorghum and rice.”

Though these fields may have lower yields, there are cost savers. For example, “Not only are the farmers inclined to cultivate a variety of crops to fill gaps in their household economies, the organic program underwrites the cost of planting certain crops by providing them the seeds, often free of charge.”

Flachs ends by highlighting a final lesson: “At the end of the day, the partnerships and investments made between farmers and perceptive development programs are what help sustain a more biodiverse world.”

Read the full Voices for Biodiversity article here. All photos are owned by Andrew Flachs, and cannot be used or reproduced without permission.

Andrew FlachsDr. Andrew Flachs researches sustainable development and alternative agriculture from genetically modified crops to heirloom seeds.  Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, he graduated from Oberlin College with dual Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts degrees in 2010.  He earned his PhD from Washington University in St. Louis in April 2016 and is currently a Volkswagen Exchange Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Heidelberg University Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies.  His work among farmers in North America and South India investigates ecological knowledge and technological change in agricultural systems spanning Cleveland urban gardens and Indian GM cotton fields.  Outside of academia, he is an avid cook, cyclist, and musician who has performed in New York City, St. Louis, Asheville, and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Erika ZambelloErika Zambello is a writer and photographer currently living on the Emerald Coast of Florida. She has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, where she specialized in Ecosystem Science and Conservation. She is also a National Geographic Young Explorer, completing four trips to the Maine North Woods in each of the four seasons, Fall 2015-Summer 2016.

In addition to acting as the sole blogger for the entire Florida State Park system, she is a regular contributor to the Duke Nicholas School, the Maine Sportsman, Bangor Daily News, and 10000 Birds. In the past she has written for The Conservation Fund, the Triangle Land Conservancy, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, BirdWatching Daily, and the Florida Sportsman. Finally, she is the founder and managing editor of the travel website One World, Two Feet, as well as the co-managing editor for the award-winning online magazine Voices for Biodiversity.

Follow her daily adventures on Instagram, @a_day_in_the_landscape or

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
An online magazine connecting humans with the natural world to help all species survive and thrive together. Voices for Biodiversity shares the stories of eco-reporters from around the world, using the ancient human art of storytelling to connect people with each other, other species, and the natural world. Our goal is to connect the human animal with the global ecosystem.