The Tolima Triangle rice boom: Expanding spatial and relational concepts of irrigation water use and access

Authors: Megan Baumann*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Latin America, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: infrastructure, irrigation, water, Colombia, intersectional, indigenous
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2014, water first filled the canals of Colombia’s incomplete and suspended irrigation megaproject, the Tolima Triangle. By 2017, the majority indigenous smallholder residents saw paddy rice production more than triple and land rent prices double. Curiously, these changes occurred despite the project’s suspension and the unauthorized use of water. Differing from empirical studies of irrigation schemes already fully operating, this chapter embraces the mega-infrastructure’s suspension to examine emergent dynamics of inequity in land and water use, relationships that may be occluded in the study of fully functioning infrastructures. In doing so, I advance geographers’ recent engagements with temporalities of infrastructure development. Moreover, this research responds to geographers’ calls for more attention to the intersectional unevenness of irrigation access, with specific attention to indigeneity. I draw insights from political ecology to critique two emergent sociospatial dynamics in the Triangle. First, remote sensing and household surveys confirm deepening disparities between resource use along the canals and drainage channels versus residents not yet reached by secondary and tertiary canals. Second, interviews and participant observation throughout one year illustrate that water access may not be an issue of water distribution, rights, governance or even an infrastructure’s completion. Instead, water use may be moreso determined by factors including attachment to land, participation in collectives and social identity. This chapter intervenes in scholarship of geographies of infrastructure and irrigated landscapes to suggest an intersectional sociospatial and environmental unevenness of irrigation. More broadly, this work points to the failures of the Colombian state’s development of mega-infrastructures.

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