The farming of trust

Organic certification and the limits of transparency in Uttarakhand, India

by SHAILA SESHIA GALVIN

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Certification is increasingly used in diverse spheres of social, political, and economic life, in which it is associated with transparency projects and audit cultures. In the Doon Valley of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, the state government has supported certified organic agriculture since the early 2000s. Although practices of document keeping and inspections required by organic certification were intended to make agrarian practices legible and transparent, in practice they often failed to do so. Officials charged with conducting certification ultimately framed organic agriculture as a moral enterprise, finding sentiments of viśvās (trust, belief, or faith) to be crucial to their work. Rather than producing certainty and transparent knowledge, certification practices may generate forms of uncertainty that compel, and rely for their resolution on, sentiments of trust.

An agricultural extension worker, known as a master trainer, inspects a farmer's production diary as part of the process of certifying the crop as organic (Doon Valley, Uttarakhand, India, March 2008). Such diaries played a key role as objects, as much as instruments, of certification inspections.
An agricultural extension worker, known as a master trainer, inspects a farmer's production diary as part of the process of certifying the crop as organic (Doon Valley, Uttarakhand, India, March 2008). Such diaries played a key role as objects, as much as instruments, of certification inspections. (Photo: Shaila Seshia Galvin)