Archived project

The Political Ecology of Drylands

Goal: This is my dissertation project, dealing with questions of dryland agriculture, rural conflict, and economic development. Most papers I have written in 2012-2017 fall into the scope of this project.

Date: 1 October 2012

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Project log

Sisira Withanachchi
added 2 research items
Participatory approaches within development programs involving common-pool resources are intended to revive a community’s role in managing these resources. Certainly, to ensure the successful and equitable use of such resources, community participation is essential. However, in many cases, attempts at applying a participatory approach often fail to genuinely engage all subgroups within a community due to assumptions of homogeneity and a lack of understanding of the deep socio-political divisions between people. As a result, development programs can be plagued by these pre-existing power relations, potentially resulting in tokenistic community participation and the continuation of elite capture of natural resources to the same extent or worse than before a development program has begun. This in turn can negatively impact good governance and the fair distribution of a common pool resource. This paper explores the use of participatory approaches in water projects, assessing to what degree power relationships impact water management programs. Using a qualitative approach, the paper identifies key challenges of participatory water governance through case studies from Turkey, India, and Sri Lanka, exploring: lack of social trust, elite capture of participatory processes, power heterogeneity and imbalances at the micro-level, and a lack of inclusive participation in decision-making. Based on the analysis of these case studies, this paper argues that it is essential for participatory development interventions to understand socio-political power relations within a community—an inherently complex and contested space. The so-called “exit strategy” of a community project play a key role to decide the project sustainability that grants the “community ownership” of the project. Such an understanding can bring about greater success in development interventions attempting to address water-related issues.
Sisira Withanachchi
added a research item
In rural Sri Lanka, human-wildlife conflict has increasingly become a hindrance to sustainable development in different aspects. In small-scale farming, a number of animal species are ravaging crops, contributing to the socioeconomic insecurity of peasant cultivators. Also, wild animals are threatening the safety of villagers. On the other hand, efforts to protect endangered species are undermined by lack of acceptance by rural populations due to problems associated with wildlife.
Sören Köpke
added 4 research items
Lack of attention to spatial and temporal cross-scale dynamics and effects could be understood as one of the lacunas in scholarship on river basin management. Within the water-climate-food-energy nexus, an integrated and inclusive approach that recognizes traditional knowledge about and experiences of climate change and water resource management can provide crucial assistance in confronting problems in megaprojects and multipurpose river basin management projects. The Mahaweli Development Program (MDP), a megaproject and multipurpose river basin management project, is demonstrating substantial failures with regards to the spatial and temporal impacts of climate change and socioeconomic demands for water allocation and distribution for paddy cultivation in the dry zone area, which was one of the driving goals of the project at the initial stage. This interdisciplinary study explores how spatial and temporal climatic changes and uncertainty in weather conditions impact paddy cultivation in dry zonal areas with competing stakeholders’ interest in the Mahaweli River Basin. In the framework of embedded design in the mixed methods research approach, qualitative data is the primary source while quantitative analyses are used as supportive data. The key findings from the research analysis are as follows: close and in-depth consideration of spatial and temporal changes in climate systems and paddy farmers’ socioeconomic demands altered by seasonal changes are important factors. These factors should be considered in the future modification of water allocation, application of distribution technologies, and decision-making with regards to water resource management in the dry zonal paddy cultivation of Sri Lanka.
Climate change is increasingly framed as a security concern. Proponents of the environmental security discourse warn that dwindling water resources, loss of arable land and grazing grounds will cause hunger and conflict. These resource-­‐ related conflicts will arise in the most vulnerable parts of the Global South. However, this discourse is blind to the political economy of a growth-­‐based capitalist world economy. Narratives of scarcity reinforce the conflictuality of climate change and manifest the securization of the field. Climatic extremes have a potential to compromise food security, but volatile markets, government neglect, and violence also contribute to the problem. Using a political ecology approach, this contribution is an attempt to deconstruct the neo-­‐ Malthusian argument that food insecurity as a consequence of climatic change and population growth is a root cause of conflict. The author argues that food insecurity will increasingly become a question of climate justice, which will have to be tackled through re-­‐allocation of resources, not through deployment of troops.
Köpke, S., Withanachchi, Sisira., Pathiranage, R, Withanachchi, Chandana., and Ploeger, A. Political Ecology of Irrigation Agriculture in Dry Zone Sri Lanka. XV IWRA World Water Conference, Edinburgh UK, May 25, 2015. The presentation is based on the collaborative research project Institute for Social Sciences, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, Department of Organic Food Quality and Food Culture, University of Kassel, Germany, the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Management at Rajarata University, Sri Lanka and Eco-collective Research Association, Sri Lanka. The paper will be published soon.
Chandana R. Withanachchi
added a research item
Sri Lanka was a colony of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. The simplification of Sri Lankan food culture can be seen most clearly today, including how the diet has been changed in the last 400 years since the colonial occupation began. Therefore, greater efforts must be made to uncover the colonial forces that have undermined food security and health in Sri Lanka. Also traditional eating habits, which are associated with countless health benefits, have been gradually replaced by the globalized food system of multinational corporations and hidden hunger, a system inherent in the emergence of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, cholesterol, and kidney disease epidemics, in Sri Lanka. This article discusses factors that have underpinned the dietary change in Sri Lanka from its early colonization to the post-colonization period. The research followed the integrated concept in ethnological and sociological study approaches. The study examined literature and conducted several interviews with field experts and senior people in marginal areas in Sri Lanka. This study examines the Sri Lankan traditional food system and how it changed after the colonial period, including the main changes and their impact on current micronutrient deficiencies and non-communicable diseases.
Sören Köpke
added a research item
The study deals with social–ecological dynamics in irrigated agriculture in Sri Lanka’s dry zone. Paddy cultivation on small-scale farms, the prevalent livelihood strategy in the region, is highly dependent on irrigation. Small village tanks and large-scale irrigation schemes shape agricultural life, together with modernized agrarian technologies in accordance with “Green Revolution” approaches. Based on field research conducted in North Central and Eastern Province in 2013/2014, this paper evaluates the current state of rural development in the dry zone through the perspective of political ecology, emphasizing the central role of sustainable water management issues. We find that hardships of the local populations are mainly comprised by the occurrence of a quasi-epidemic kidney disease (CKDu), socio-economic tensions, and post-conflict challenges. Through the lense of the political ecology approach, the study suggests that agricultural modernization in the Sri Lankan dry zone has created severe dilemmas to the social and environmental sustainability of irrigated agriculture.
Sören Köpke
added a research item
Over the last decade, researchers have increasingly concerned themselves with the interconnection between drought, food insecurity crisis, and armed conflict. Despite continuous efforts using a variety of methodological approaches, the scientific community has not come to a consensus on the issue. Yet, drought and food crises are very urgent challenges in the face of an “El-Niño”- related megadrought in Southern Africa, and conflict very much plays into this problem complex. The paper prsentatiom presented here aims for a different approach, synthesizing insights from historic cases, in order to better understand the underlying political mechanism that link drought-famine and conflict. The short case studies discuss three welldocumented cases, the 1876-79 Drought in British India, the Great Leap Forward Famine in China 1958-1960, and the Sahelian Droughts in Darfur/ Sudan (1980s-2000s). In discussing these cases, the role of the state is highlighted; if a state allows a significant number of the people under its protection to starve, it seriously undermines its own legitimacy. The paper argues that state authorities will only be able to proceed in such manners when they follow a political ideology based on hierarchies that promote social, racial and gender inequalities. Using Hobbesian categories, the question is raised wether under the condition of a food crisis, an authoritarian model of statehood (“Leviathan”) is not at least as lethal to its citizen as a fragmentized, failed state (“Behemoth”).
Sören Köpke
added a project goal
This is my dissertation project, dealing with questions of dryland agriculture, rural conflict, and economic development. Most papers I have written in 2012-2017 fall into the scope of this project.