Irrigating lives : development intervention and dynamics of social relationships in an irrigation project

D. Magadlela

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

    Abstract

    <p>This study is about rural agricultural development and social processes of change in rural Zimbabwe. It is aimed at understanding how irrigation intervention in a remote rural context changed the cultural, social, political and farming lives of people. It is a study of people coping with changes in their livelihoods which had been introduced from outside by development intervention. The study was sustained by the realisation that irrigation is not just a matter of technical artefacts, but has much to do with people, especially the people it is meant to benefit. Development practitioners and researchers should be interested not only in irrigation performance, but also in how people manipulate the irrigation resources available to them. How does irrigation development change the lives of the irrigators over time? How is it transformed and adapted by them? How does it change their perceptions of each other in view of their local social identities and differences? What do irrigation farmers use to gain improved access to irrigation resources? How do they manipulate their social, political, technical and management environments to their benefit? What lessons can we derive from "targeted" beneficiaries' analyses of how their lives have been transformed by development intervention?</p><p>The study focuses on social constructions of cultural identities, on social interaction and change among smallholder farmers in the context of irrigation development intervention in Eastern Zimbabwe. It shows how the introduction of an irrigation scheme not only created, but also nurtured and promoted processes of cultural identity and social differentiation among groups of rural producers who had previously had but few distinguishing social characteristics (such as ethnic affiliation). It is a study of how the irrigation context helps to highlight their social and cultural differences and leads to social conflicts and leadership struggles, and to how different individual actors devise strategies, such as enrolling outsiders into local struggles, to achieve their often conflicting group and individual objectives. The analysis portrays the irrigation scheme as a social and political 'domain' in which different groups of farmers and outsiders engage each other in negotiations over resources, and the meanings attached to these resources. In some instances, the irrigation domain is seen as an arena, a contested area where struggles take place over a diversity of livelihood resources such as water and land.</p><p>The study used the actor-oriented perspective as the theoretical basis for the analysis of research findings. An actor-oriented approach helps one recognise the agency of social actors in interactive situations. It requires a full analysis of the ways in which different social actors manage and interpret new elements in their life-worlds. The capacity of social actors to influence and shape their social surroundings is one of the salient features of the approach used in this Nyamaropa study.</p><p>The study is also about the omnipresence of encounters and clashes of different 'world-views' at the local level in the irrigation scheme. The clashes take place in the social, technical, administrative, managerial and political domains. It looks at how the different 'life-worlds' accommodate to each other in actors' daily interactions to give a semblance of harmony and attraction, co-existing with conflict and rejection. It is an analysis of the dynamism of social differences in irrigation intervention, and in any development intervention for that matter, that reveals the multiplexity of actors' interactions, and how their multiple relations and interlocking projects generate potentially explosive social exchanges. The study starts from the bottom, as it were, in its analysis of how different people in a specific rural development context create and live with complex social relations where daily interaction is characterised by strategic negotiation and mutual enrolment in other actors' projects. The analysis focuses more on local level dynamics, and does not deal, for example, with the politics of decision-making at higher levels of administration, such as the province or central government departments under which smallholder irrigation development falls. The study does, however, acknowledge the inevitable, sometimes useful role of macro-policy structures in influencing development outcomes at the local level.</p><p>As a sociological study, this research work focused on how people interacted, worked together, settled differences and used community resources in their daily struggles for survival. Irrigation literature in Zimbabwe has only recently begun to pay specific attention to the fact that irrigation development is essentially a social process. Part of the objective here is to contribute to the debate about how rural actors manage their differentiated irrigating lives, discourses, struggles and negotiations, conflicts and accommodations in their constantly changing social environments. In order to examine this complex social process, it was proposed to undertake a detailed analysis of one irrigation scheme and its impact both on farmers practising irrigated agriculture and on surrounding dryland communities.</p><p>The thesis is divided into four parts. Part One gives 'the story behind the study'. Then there is a background to the study in the form of Chapter 2. This chapter provides what I have called The Setting. This is Zimbabwe's agricultural history, the history of smallholder irrigation development in the country, a background to Nyamaropa irrigation intervention, and an introduction to the different social and political actors who appear throughout the book.</p><p>Part Two is about the embeddedness of social, political and power relationships, social and economic differences, in land and water resources. Chapter 3 deals with struggles over land and water among irrigation farmers. There is a debate on water ownership from the different actors' standpoints in the Nyamaropa area. This chapter is central in the sense that it introduces the crucial issues of cultural and social identity in relations between formal irrigators and non-irrigators, between original inhabitants of the now irrigated area and immigrants to the same area. These are some of the issues that set the scene for case analyses of the dynamics of development intervention, constructions and reconstructions of cultural and social identities and differences.</p><p>Chapter 4, also in Part Two, is about the issue of different claims to water use, between irrigation farmers in the Nyamaropa project, and villagers in the catchment area who use river water which is the source of water for the irrigation scheme downstream. Here the argument is that spatial distinctions, cultural identities, and a strong sense of communal existence, constitute a crucial entry point for the analysis of ways of assembling claims to resource use by different actors. Differences in community organisation feature as competing aspects of claims to resource utilisation.</p><p>Part Three is about the irrigation domain as a shared life-world. Chapter 5 is on gender images and irrigation life. There are cases of widows who struggle to survive in a tough and competitive irrigation environment. A salient feature of this chapter is how women relate to the irrigation scheme through their families or individual plots. Walking through the irrigation scheme one is struck by a common feature of the area: over seventy percent of people one sees working or meets in the fields are women and children, with the majority of them being women. A surprising, yet refreshing, phenomenon in the Nyamaropa irrigation scheme is that almost thirty percent of registered plotholders are widows! Some of them registered as widows when their men worked in town, so that they would have access to irrigated plots. This was a stratagem to beat the rule prohibiting those with wage-earning spouses from having access to irrigated land. It worked, to their advantage.</p><p>Chapter 6 focuses on irrigation extension specifically. This provides cases of farmers' encounters with Agritex (the national extension agency), and reveals the different views of similar situations between farmers and outsiders, and among farmers themselves in the presence of outsiders. This chapter focuses on one of the central issues in the study: that of how social differences among people impact on their responses to new knowledge and information. In this case, it is a matter of how farmers relate to Extension Workers as promoters of change, improvement and innovation.</p><p>Part Four is on official (and unofficial) regulations and practices, looking especially at government practice through Agritex and the traditional institution through the Headman. Chapter 7 deals with a delicate and sensitive subject of age, inheritance, sub-leasing and renting, and the irrigation rules which were ignored. The average age of plotholders in Nyamaropa was approximately 55 years, though there were plotholders as old as 84 years. Most of them were first generation plotholders. These were farmers who cleared the plots themselves when the project started in the late fifties. Most of the elderly irrigators were too old to fully utilise their irrigation plots, but still retained their names in the register. They regarded irrigation land as their family asset, against the official rule that they were lessees on state land. To maintain productivity, they sub-leased their plots to dryland farmers who needed irrigated land for food. Some of them had established networks with local businessmen who rented part of their land in return for paying irrigation fees for the plotholders. There were some long-term relationships of mutual assistance between the different types of farmers. Rules and regulations are seen here as among the tools at farmers' disposal in their constant negotiations for 'better deals' among themselves and with their resident Extension Workers.</p><p>Chapter 8 is the only chapter in Part Five. This section provides conclusions and theoretical analyses of research findings. It contextualises social difference and cultural identity in the life-situations of irrigators and drylanders in Nyamaropa. Discussed here are issues of how the different social groupings fit into the whole story of social dynamics of development intervention, and what some social theorists say on the issue of cultural identity and social difference (which is not much so far). This chapter brings together different theoretical issues raised in case material in the chapters before it. Chapter 8 also looks into problems facing 'irrigating lives' in smallholder irrigation schemes in the context of external intervention, and the issues and contradictions surrounding concepts such as cultural identity, and <em>strategic difference</em> in rural development.</p><p>One hopes that such a study will initiate a process that will lead to bringing out and appraising differences among development programme beneficiaries to make interventions not merely effective (by externalised criteria), but also meaningful to the range of people whose lives are unavoidably affected by its introduction. The study will help in the general understanding of social dynamics of rural development, of land reform and of poverty-reduction strategies in Zimbabwe and the Southern African region.</p>
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • Long, N.E., Promotor
    Award date18 Jan 2000
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789058081575
    Publication statusPublished - 2000

    Keywords

    • development projects
    • irrigation
    • development
    • intervention
    • rural development
    • social change
    • social interaction
    • relationships
    • dynamics
    • sociology
    • zimbabwe

    Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Irrigating lives : development intervention and dynamics of social relationships in an irrigation project'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this