Iris Schuitemaker

Just transitions to climate-resilient agriculture in India

Department of Geosciences, Faculty of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University

Supervisor(s): Ellen Moors, Frank van Laerhoven & Koen Beumer


Iris holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Geography, and a research master’s degree in International Development Studies, both from the University of Amsterdam. During her studies she has specialized in natural resource governance in the Global South. Her master’s thesis is about governance of a national park in Peru, that includes indigenous peoples in their co-governance. Her thesis was nominated for the NALACS Thesis Award 2018-2019, an award for the best thesis on Latin America and the Caribbean.

Previously, Iris worked as a lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Amsterdam, and in Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


There are major sustainability challenges in food production, as current agricultural production systems lead to resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, land and soil degradation, and unacceptable social impacts. The urgency to tackle these sustainability challenges is recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which the need to promote sustainable agriculture, tackle climate change, and ensure food security by 2030 is put high on the global agenda. So, there is an urgent need for a transition to more sustainable forms of food production.

One prominent framework for achieving sustainable transitions is Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA), an integrated approach to sustainable agriculture. In practice, CSA is regularly captured in the so-called three “pillars”;  sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, climate change adaptation, and climate change mitigation. While the CSA approach is broad, technological innovations play an important role in CSA interventions, because they can help to increase yield. From the first inception of the concept of CSA in 2009, it has grown into an approach for sustainable agriculture that is implemented worldwide.

CSA interventions have significant justice implications, especially when increasing agricultural productivity comes at the expense of other sustainable development goals. These ‘trade-offs’ can lead, for example, to the introduction of  controversial technologies such as hybrid seeds, that create smallholder dependence on largely unaffordable patented seeds. Thus far, literature on CSA has paid scant attention to issues of justice. Therefore, we need a better understanding of how CSA can be just.

This PhD project investigates the societal implications of CSA interventions that use biotechnology. I will specifically focus on one particular case of CSA: the introduction of a new rice variety in the Cauvery river basin, India. The objective is to understand how we can transition to CSA in a just way.