D3 "Hill irrigation across the Alai – Pamir – Karakoram – trans-Himalaya: inequalities, impacts of nonfarm employment, and social mobilisation"

Joe Hill, Ph.D.

Keywords: hill irrigation, mountain agriculture, mobility, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, India

Despite significant broadening of the overall livelihood portfolio of households residing in high altitude mountain valleys, climatic conditions ensure that irrigation remains central for the continued viability of mountain communities and their settlements, and for the fulfilment of a majority of households’ subsistence needs. Gravity-flow hill irrigation systems – the majority diversion systems sourcing water from glacial or snow-field melt-water, springs or directly from river flows – are found at elevations exceeding 2000 metres across the high mountain valleys of the Alai-Pamir-Karakorum-trans-Himalaya. While there is no dearth of literature on irrigated agriculture for the trans-Himalaya and Karakorum mountain valleys, studies are sparse for the Pamir-Alai region. This relates to the history of this vast mountainous region: in 1893 and then 1895 borders were created by British India and Tsarist Russia, creating the Wakhan Corridor of north-eastern Afghanistan. Thereafter, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the region was divided in two, its people and their irrigated farming practices subjected to vastly different forms of state rule and agrarian conditions. Few hill irrigation studies undertaken in the former USSR exist or are readily accessible, and little work has been done to examine the similarities and differences in hill irrigation across the afore-stated divide, especially for the contemporary period. Furthermore the ‘Line of Control’ divided the Karakorum and trans-Himalaya regions following the independence of Pakistan and India, with differing forms of state and non-state led intervention having taken place on either side in the past six decades.

This research takes an interest in the development of hill irrigation systems and the communities depending upon them; development being defined as both long-term processes of social change and deliberate efforts aimed at improvement (Gardner and Lewis 1996, Thomas 2000). The relevance of the research lies in the fact that the way of life of mountainous village communities are subject to a wide-range of changes and pressures in the contemporary neoliberal/globalising era, which alter the past institutional arrangements that sustained hill irrigation systems; for example, water rights and rules, locally recognised authorities, collective objectives of water users. Spatial mobility, in the form of migratory nonfarm employment but also movement to urban centres for education, work and ultimately to relocate, is ubiquitous across the specified region. Historic and contemporary processes of state rule, and related conceptions of place and of scale, affect how state and non-state actors engage with local communities and irrigation, and vice versa, how local water-users mobilise themselves to access resources from state and non-state actors; for example, to fund repairs of their canal infrastructure, or to protect their established water rights. Such mobilisation necessarily relates to the historical and contemporary figurations of actors extant in localities and in specific territories, and to the networks that may or may not exist between individual water users and state and non-state actors. Globalisation processes, spatial mobility, and processes of state rule impact upon irrigation by altering figurations of locally-based water users as well as the positionality of water users in relation to one another as pertaining to their value systems and livelihood preferences including choice of crops. Such processes alter canal maintenance and water distribution practices, based as they are upon legally pluralistic water rights, rules and obligations. Emergent inequalities in for example, access to water, fulfilment of maintenance obligations, or access to agency funds for canal repair work, are indicative of the ongoing viability of hill irrigation systems, and of the village-based lives and livelihoods they sustain.

This qualitative research project has identified case study communities/villages/valleys from across the above-specified mountainous region, based on a literature search and field visits. It employs a range of methods including literature review, archival research, and during field research a combination of observation, mapping, informal interview and group discussion with farmers, and interviews with regional and national/international actors. Theoretically the project interrogates the interaction between macro-level political-economic changes, ‘globalisation processes’, irrigated mountain agriculture, and the well-being of households and communities. Focussing on sociospatial concepts, especially on mobility, it explores how the following interact with hill irrigation systems: 1) exposure of mountain valley-based communities to global/regional norms and practices, 2) transformations in the role of the state, and the role water users play in accessing financial and material resources for irrigated agriculture, 3) alterations in patterns of resource access and control at the local-level, and 4) migratory and other spatial movements such as urbanisation.

Literature the project will build upon:

Boelens, R. 2008. The rules of the game and the game of the rules: Normalisation and resistance in Andean water control. The Netherlands, Wageningen University

Coward, E.W.J. 1990. Property rights and network order: The case of irrigation works in the Western Himalayas. Human Organization 49: 78-88

Flyvbjerg, B. 2001. Making social science matter: Why social inquiry fails and how it can succeed again. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Jessop, B., Brenner, N. and M. Jones. 2008. Theorising sociospatial relations. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26: 389-401

Jodha, N.S., Banskota, M., Partap, T. 1992. Strategies for the sustainable development of mountain agriculture: An overview. In: Jodha, N.S., Banskota, M. and Partap, T. (Eds.) 1992. Sustainable mountain agriculture: Perspectives and issues (volume 1). New Delhi: Oxford and IBH Publishing Co.

Kreutzmann, H. (Ed.) 2000. Sharing water. Irrigation and water management in the Hindukush – Karakoram – Himalaya. Karachi, Oxford University Press

Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social. An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford, Oxford University Press

Vincent, L. 1995. Hill irrigation. Water and development in mountain agriculture. London, Intermediate Technology Publications

Other cited literature:

Gardner, K. and D. Lewis. 1996. Anthropology, development and the post-modern challenge. London, Pluto Press

Thomas, A. 2000. Development as practice in a liberal capitalist world. Journal of International Development 12(6): 773-787