Conveying more than water: the co-production of hydraulic infrastructures and society in Southwestern Peru

Authors: Ramzi Tubbeh*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural and Political Ecology, Development
Keywords: water, infrastructure, Latin America, agriculture, hydrosocial cycle
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The “new infrastructural turn” suggests that the uneven presence of infrastructures, as well as how construction, maintenance, and operation responsibilities are distributed among users and government agencies, (re)produce and reflect social and political relations among said actors, making publics, claimants, and communities. My research in Southwestern Peru contributes to this body of literature by comparing social life around irrigation infrastructure and water distribution in dissimilar sites along the Colca-Siguas watershed. The highland Colca Valley features a network of small reservoirs and ditches, mostly built, operated, and maintained by farmers themselves. Communal labor on infrastructure determines de facto water entitlements and creates a sense of community. In contrast, the lowland Majes plains are a modern agricultural complex built, operated, and maintained by state and quasi-state organizations for smallholding settler-farmers whose water entitlements depend on landownership and tariff payments. For many years, these dissimilar sociotechnical systems conveyed discourses that severed lowland from highland farmer identities. Majes plains farmers were considered market-oriented entrepreneurs, allies of national development, and thus, entitled publics; Colca Valley farmers were rendered traditional peasants in need of efficient irrigation methods and technologies to sustain their own livelihoods. Today, new discourses are produced as the second stage of the irrigation project is planned to facilitate production by agribusiness corporations in large landholdings. To project advocates, smallholding settler-farmers are no longer the poster child of entrepreneurial agricultural development, but the incarnation of a failed development model. Adjustments in irrigation water allocations follow these evolving infrastructural developments and associated discourses.

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