Dr Fraser Sugden

Dr Fraser Sugden

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography
International Lead (Research)

Contact details

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Fraser Sugden is a human geographer who has written extensively on shifting class, gender and generational relations in agriculture, and their interaction with contemporary environmental, political and economic stresses.

He has conducted intensive rural fieldwork across South and East Asia, with a focus on Nepal and the Eastern Gangetic Plains, and was based in this region for most of the last decade prior to joining the School. He maintains a commitment to interdisciplinary action research with strong engagement and partnership with civil society and organisations working at the grassroots.


  • PhD in Geography (University of Edinburgh)
  • MSc in Human Geography (by research), University of Edinburgh
  • MA Geography, University of Edinburgh


Fraser Sugden specialises in the political economy of agrarian and environmental change. He completed his PhD on land relations in Nepal’s Tarai-Madhesh from the University of Edinburgh, after which he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Stirling. Prior to joining Birmingham University, he was a Senior Researcher at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Kathmandu, part of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). With IWMI he was also the country representative for Nepal and was the Gender, Youth and Inclusion leader for the global CGIAR research programme on Water, Land and Ecosystems. He maintains a Visiting Scientist position at IWMI today.


Dr Sugden teaches in the fields of Development Geography, Water Resources Management and Agrarian Change.

Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD students:  Fraser would welcome new PhD students with an interest in agrarian and environmental change in the Global South. Students with a regional specialization on South Asia (especially the Himalaya and the Gangetic plains) would be particularly welcome, as would emerging scholars with a broader interest in Marxist geography and political-ecology. He would also encourage co-supervision arrangements with students from a physical geography background who are engaged in interdisciplinary work. He currently supervises the following PhD students:

  • Caroline Russell: Actionable knowledge for disaster risk reduction: Collaborative governance to enhance community resilience to natural hazards – with Julian Clark (lead) and David Hannah
  • Dipika Das: Women’s Bargaining Power in Agricultural Value Chains: A Gender Analysis from Eastern Gangetic Plains (external supervision at University of Southern Queensland with Retha Wiesner (lead) and Tek Narayan Maraseni)


While Dr Sugden’s research interest is rooted in broadly agrarian geography, he has pursued leads of enquiry in three overlapping themes. A first long standing field of interest is on agrarian formations which fall outside the sphere of capitalism in the traditional sense, in particular, South Asian landlordism. A long running thread in his research has been on the evolution and reproduction of rural class relations as older agrarian formations interact with capitalist labour and product markets. He has been engaged extensively in debates over land reform, and the larger ‘Agrarian Question’ in South Asia, including its social, political and economic implications.

A second strand of research is focused on climate change resilience for farmers and the tensions between physical water scarcity linked to drought, and access constraints rooted in the relations of production. This culminated in cutting edge action research with grassroots partners in Nepal, Bihar and West Bengal to pilot radical new forms of economic and political organization through farmer collectives (http://dsi4mtf.usq.edu.au/dsi4mtf/). Fraser is committed to interdisciplinary research, and works regularly with agricultural engineers, agronomists and hydrologists to address the technological (as well as social) barriers to agricultural intensification amongst the land poor majority in South Asia.

A final interest is on the shifting roles of rural women, men and youth as they manage land and water resources in the context of environmental change, economic restructuring and migration. Migration and the impact of demographic change on agrarian relations and land management has been a recent research focus. When he was with IWMI, Dr Sugden was instrumental in establishing the MARIS network (http://maris.iwmi.org/), which aims to promote and expand new research and dialogue on rural out-migration and its implication for the agrarian sector. This paved the way for a 3 year Horizon 2020 project on which Fraser is co-I, AGRUMIG ‘Migration governance and agricultural & rural change in ‘home’ communities: comparative experience from Europe, Asia and Africa’. This seven country project includes cases from China, Ethiopia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Thailand.

Regionally, Fraser’s research for the last 12 years has been focused on the Eastern Gangetic Plains, in particular, Nepal’s Tarai-Madhesh and the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal. However, he has also conducted extended fieldwork in the Nepal Himalaya, South China, Vietnam and Bangladesh, and he has recently initiated research in the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands.

He has secured research funding from a diverse range of sources, including the following recent grants:

Co-applicant with SOAS and IWMI for Horizon 2020 grant, Leaving something behind’ - Migration governance and agricultural & rural change in ‘home’ communities: comparative experience from Europe, Asia and Africa. Funded by European Commission. Feb 2019, €3,000,000

Lead applicant for Improving Dry Season Irrigation for Marginal and Tenant Farmers in the Eastern Gangetic Plains. Funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Sep 2014, Aus$2,200,000

Lead applicant for Migration Matters II: An Asia Policy Dialogue on Gender, Water and Agriculture. Funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and Stockholm Environment Institute (Proposal ranked No 1 out of 84 applications).  Aug 2016, US$36,000

Co-applicant with Wageningen University for Gender Squares and Poverty Circles: Unravelling agriculture gaps, challenges and opportunities in the Eastern Gangetic Plains’ (Bangladesh, India, Nepal). Funded by CGIAR research programme on Water Land and Ecosystems, Focal Regions fund, Jan 2014, US$739,501

Other activities

Fraser is engaged in a wide range of public outreach and research support activities in the UK and Nepal, including: 

  • 2016 – present: Founder and steering committee member of the MARIS network (Migration, Agriculture and Resilience: Initiative for Sustainability) 
  • 2017 – present: Visiting Scientist, International Water Management Institute, Kathmandu 
  • 2012 – present: member of Development Studies Association (UK) 
  • 2014 – present: Research Fellow at Centre for Nepal Studies - UK (CNSUK)
  • 2011 – 2012: co-founder and editor of New Angle: Nepal Journal of Social Science and Public Policy (now member of editorial board) 
  • 2008: Consultant, Department for International Development (DFID), Nepal 

Fraser has been a reviewer for a wide range of academic publications including Global Environmental Change, Journal of Agrarian Change, Area, Ambio, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Development and Change, and Geoforum, while also reviewing a number of policy reports in the field of agricultural water and land management, and reviewing proposals for RCUK and ACIAR.


Peer reviewed journal articles/research reports:

Sugden, F. Forthcoming. Labour migration, capitalist accumulation and feudal reproduction: A historical analysis from the Eastern Gangetic Plains. Antipode. In press.

Leder, S., Sugden, F., Raut M., Ray, D., Saikia, P. 2019. Ambivalences of collective farming: Feminist political ecologies from the Eastern Gangetic Plains. International Journal of the Commons. 13 (1)

Sugden, F.,Seddon, D., Raut, M. 2017. Mapping historical and contemporary agrarian transformations and capitalist infiltration in a complex upland environment: A case from Eastern Nepal. Journal of Agrarian Change. 18 (2) 444-472

Sugden, F. 2017. A mode of production flux: The transformation and reproduction of rural class relations in lowland Nepal and North Bihar. Dialectical Anthropology. 41 (2) 129–161

Bunting, S.W. Cai, K. Kundu, N. Luo, A. Lund, S. Mishra, R. Ray, D. Smith, K. Sugden, F. 2016. Integrated action planning for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of highland aquatic resources: evaluating outcomes for the Beijiang River, China. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. 59 (9), 1580 - 1609

Price, J., Janmaat, J., Sugden F., Bharati, L. 2015. Water storage systems and preference heterogeneity in water-scarce environments: A choice experiment in Nepal’s Koshi River Basin. Water Resources Economics. 13, 6 - 18

Sugden, F, Maskey, N, Clement, F, Ramesh, V, Philip, A, & Rai, A. 2014. Agrarian stress and climate change in the Eastern Gangetic plains: Gendered vulnerability in a stratified social formation. Global Environmental Change. 29. 258-269

Sugden, F. 2014. Landlordism, tenants and the groundwater sector: Lessons from Terai-Madhesh of Nepal. IWMI Research Report 162

Sugden, F. Shrestha, L. Bharati, L. Gurung, P., Maharjan, L. Janmaat, J., Price, J., Sherpa, T., Bhattarai, U., Koirala, S. Timilsina, B. (2014). Climate change, out-migration and agrarian stress: The potential for upscaling small-scale water storage in Nepal. IWMI Research Report 159

Sugden, F. and Punch, S. 2014. The Challenges and Benefits of Employing a Mobile Research Fellow to Facilitate Team Work on a Large, Interdisciplinary, Multi-sited Project. Research in Comparative and International Education. Special issue: Methodological Issues in Intercultural, International and Comparative Research. 9 (4). 441-453

Clement, F., Basnet, G., Sugden F., and Bharati., L. 2014. Social and environmental justice in foreign aid: A case study of irrigation interventions in Western Nepal. New Angle: Nepal Journal of Social Science and Public Policy 3 (1)

Sugden, F and Punch, S. 2013. Capitalist expansion over common property ecosystems: Lessons from China, Vietnam and India. Development and Change, 45 (4), 656–684

Punch, S and Sugden, F. 2013. Work, education and out-migration among children and youth in upland Asia: changing patterns of labour and ecological knowledge in an era of globalization. Local Environments. 18 (3), 255-270(16)

Sugden, F., 2013, Pre-capitalist reproduction on the Nepal Terai: Semi-feudal agriculture in an era of globalisation, Journal of Contemporary Asia. 43 (3), 519-545

Sugden, F., 2011, Mapping the trajectory of Nepal’s transition, New Angle: Nepal Journal of Social Science and Public Policy. 1 (1), 1-16.

Sugden, F., 2009, Neo-liberalism, markets and class structures on the Nepali lowlands: The political economy of agrarian change, Geoforum, 40 (634–644)


Sugden, F. And Gurung, G. 2012. Absentee landlordism and agrarian stagnation in Nepal: A case from the Eastern Tarai. Nepal Institute of Development Studies, Kathmandu

Book chapters and other reports:

Sugden, F, Maskey, N, Munch-Petersen, J, Sherpa, T Y C and Bastakoti R. Forthcoming. Floodplain and river dependent livelihoods, land poverty and upstream hydropower development in the Koshi basin. IWMI Working Paper.

Bastakoti R. C., Sugden, F., Raut, M., Shrestha, S. 2017. Key Constraints and Collective Action Challenges for Groundwater Governance in the Eastern Gangetic Plains, in Suhardiman, D., Nicol, A., Mapedza, E., Water Governance and Collective Action, Routledge

de Haan, N., and Sugden, F. 2014. Social Inclusion. In van der Bliek, J., McCorknick, P., and Clark, J. (eds) On target for people and planet:  Setting and achieving water-related Sustainable Development Goals. International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo

Sugden, F., de Silva, S., Clement, F., Maskey, N., Ramesh, V., Philip, A., Bharati, L. 2014. A Framework to Understand Gender and Structural Vulnerability to Climate Change in the Ganges Basin: Lessons from Bangladesh, India and Nepal. IWMI Working Paper 159.

McCornick, P., Smakhtin, V., Bharati, L., Johnston, R., McCartney, M., Sugden, F., Clement, F., McIntyre, B. 2013. Tackling change: Future-proofing water, agriculture, and food security in an era of climate uncertainty. International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo

Sugden, F and Punch, S.  Forthcoming. Young Peoples Agricultural and Ecological Knowledge in Upland Asia. In Skelton, T., Klocker, N and Ansell, N (eds). Geographies of Children and Young People: Geographies of Global Issues. Springer. In press

Sugden, F., Saikia, P., Maskey, N., Pokharel, P. Forthcoming. Gender, agricultural investment and productivity in an era of out-migration: A case study from Nepal and Bihar. In Bharati, L., Sharma, B,. Smakhtin V., and Mandal, A. S. (eds). The Ganges River Basin: Status and challenges in water, environment and livelihoods. In press

Amarasinghe, U., Sugden, F., Clement, F. Forthcoming.Poverty, inequalities and vulnerability of the Ganges River basin. In Bharati, L., Sharma, B,. Smakhtin V., and Mandal, A. S. (eds). The Ganges River Basin: Status and challenges in water, environment and livelihoods. In press

Sugden, F. Forthcoming. Groundwater user groups in a stratified economic formation: Lessons from the Terai-Madhesh. Proceedings for Farmer Managed Irrigation System Trust conference 2015, Kathmandu. Accepted for publication.

View all publications in research portal