The present coronavirus pandemic has created havoc in lives and livelihoods of people across the world. In just a few months, the world as we knew it has irretrievably changed. If one were to trace the roots of the crisis, it would lead one to the shift from sustainable farming systems to market-based systems that have increased agricultural productivity but have led to the breakdown of humanity’s relationship with nature. In the Malnad (up-ghat) region of the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, known for its diversified spice garden agroforestry practices, a similar change can be observed. Over the last decade, there has been an increasing conversion of paddy land and forest encroachments for cultivation of areca, leading to a change in the biodiversity of the region. The changes in the land use patterns and the destruction of the environment caused by infrastructure projects are among some of the important reasons that have resulted in increasing drought-like situations in an area known to be the wettest region of the Western Ghats and resulting in epidemics endemic to the region. However, in the shadow of the areca-spice garden economy of this region, there is a lesser known but growing economy—the home garden agroforestry. The gendered practices of the home gardens, run mainly by the women of the community, provide the vital everyday inputs for the household. Though high in terms of use value, the home gardens are low in terms of exchange value. It is in the context of mapping the cultural and developmental contours of this region that one tries to understand the gendered practices of the local communities that are a beacon of hope in times of a pandemic. In this article, one attempts to examine the marginal though crucial initiatives of women of this district to preserve the biodiversity of the region and provide for food in the kitchens. Finally, it attempts to connect the dots between gender, environment and development and argues for the adoption of a critical feminist political ecology perspective to analyse the gendered agroforestry practices.

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