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Farmer-led institutional innovations in managing smallholder irrigation schemes in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces, South Africa

Sandile Phakathi, Sikhulumile Sinyolo, Juniors Marire and Gavin Fraser

Agricultural Water Management, 2021, vol. 248, issue C

Abstract: Farmer-led institutional innovations have been touted as the key to improving the management of water resources in irrigation schemes. However, little is known about them in South Africa. This study documents institutional innovations by 28 farmer groups located on four irrigation schemes in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces, South Africa. Induced institutional innovation theory, Ostrom’s eight design principles, and thematic analysis of interview transcripts were used to analyse the data. The study results show that 21 groups engaged in institutional innovations, indicating high levels of farmer-led innovative activity among these irrigators. Examples of innovations include, among others, the introduction of a secret voting system to improve participation of marginalised people in decision-making processes, designing daily rotation rosters to reduce conflicts, as well as using an attendance register for participation in group activities, and rewarding members according to their participation levels. The majority of these innovations were designed to improve the graduated sanction mechanism (22.2%), enhancing the penalty system for non-compliance; improving collective action arrangements (27.8%); monitoring attendance of group meetings (18.5%); democratising decision making; and ensuring equitable water distribution. These innovations focused mainly on addressing challenges, rather than exploiting opportunities, and were mostly incremental (94%), involving an adjustment or reinterpretation of rules and regulations. Radical institutional innovations constituted only 6%. The innovative groups were smaller in size and experienced less conflict than the non-innovative groups. Both groups had low levels of education and were mostly dominated by female farmers. The study recommends that the government should build on the agency of the irrigators to improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of institutional arrangements in irrigation schemes. The study’s findings suggest that small groups should be actively promoted, while tailored training should be offered based on the groups’ specific needs, to improve institutional innovations in the smallholder irrigation sector in South Africa.

Keywords: Smallholder irrigation; Induced institutional innovation; Farmer-led institutions; Ostrom’s eight design principles (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.agwat.2021.106780

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