Seminar - The political ecology of microfinance

The Environmental Social Science Seminar Series is co-hosted by Resources, Environment & Development at the Crawford School of Public Policy and the Fenner School of Environment and Society. Each month we will hear from a leading researcher exploring environmental social science, from the ANU and beyond.

On 5 March 2020, join us to hear from Associate Professor Sango Mahanty on ‘The political ecology of microfinance’. A/Professor Mahanty will explore the tensions and complexities of microfinance in the context of agrarian change in Cambodia.

Microfinance is widely praised as central to addressing local poverty and inequality. Yet, in 2019, a report by the Cambodian civil society organisation LICAHDO, Collateral Damage: Land Loss and Abuses in Cambodia’s Microfinance Sector, exposed a predatory microfinance sector that actively facilitated land dispossession. The report added to a compelling and growing body of evidence within critical agrarian studies about the social risks of microcredit.

Drawing on this broader literature and A/Professor Mahanty’s own work in Cambodia and Vietnam, this seminar will explore the relationship between microfinance and rural inequality. Through a political ecology lens, it will discuss how the risks of rural debt are co-produced and compounded by land markets, mobility and rapid socio-ecological change within an inequitable political economy.

Microfinance advocates of the 1970s presented credit as an essential pathway to poverty alleviation. Yet, within the multi-dimensional context discussed here, microfinance is, instead, emerging as a key contributor to entrenched inequality in the rural South. The presentation will therefore question the role of this burgeoning commercial sector in fostering inclusive sustainable development.


About the speaker

Associate Professor Sango Mahanty is a human geographer working on the political ecology of commodity networks, land and agrarian change in mainland Southeast Asia. Her recent Australian Research Council Future Fellowship explored these related themes in a region of rapid social and environmental change along the Cambodia-Vietnam border. Her current work in this region examines how communities and civil society are responding to dramatic processes of nature-society transformation or “rupture”. Sango has collaborated with civil society and government in Australia and the Asia-Pacific, and now leads the Resources, Environment and Development Program at The Australian National University, where she works in the Crawford School of Public Policy.

The seminar will be hosted by Edwina Fingleton-Smith (Fenner) and Bec Colvin (RE&D).