Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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ATAKILTE Beyene, The Nordic Africa Institute, SE-75236 Uppsala, Sweden

This paper explores theoretically and empirically how collective management systems evolve in state-driven and potentially transformative large-scale irrigation infrastructures that are specifically designed for use by numerous smallholder farmers. Thereby, we strive for both progressing basic research and meeting immediate policy demands. Using the Koga Irrigation Scheme, which is one of the first large-scale scheme fully developed for use by smallholder farmers in Ethiopia, as a case study, we use interactive qualitative methods and analysis to generate empirical evidence. Key informant, focus group discussion and document analysis were used to gather data on objectives, perspectives, priorities and power relations of key stakeholders, institutions and organizations involved in the use and management of the scheme. Our results indicate that the scheme-level collective management system operates through incipient institutional and organizational structures that are highly fluid, oscillating between formal and informal institutional mechanisms. It also highlights that asymmetries in power relations and access to information about the distribution and use of water across the scheme are critical factors that undermine scheme-level collective management. To address these challenges, the paper suggests that smallholder farmers require broader roles and engagement in the decision-making system of the scheme. Furthermore, the paper argues that the existing management system need to align or reconcile two prevalent and parallel management practices in order to improve collective management. These are the more bureaucratic practices in water distribution on the one hand and the more informal practices in the use and conflict resolutions of water among the smallholders.