This paper is based on my master’s thesis (‘Resource Allocation: A Comparative Cultural Analysis of Small-Scale Irrigation Systems’). The goal of this paper is to analyse the factors (institutional, cultural, external, resource system characteristics) that lead to successful resource allocation. My findings are based on a comparative analysis of five different regions (South India, Himalayas, Central Asia, North Africa, and the Andes) in the rural South. The conceptual framework is based on New Institutional Economics (NIE), referring, in particular, to Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action.
As the economic and political circumstances of small communities evolve, so too do their irrigation systems. In a best-case scenario the system remains robust in the face of change, adapting, for example, new water rights and technical innovations. However, if the irrigation system is robust but path-dependant, then the system as a whole cannot adapt to changed circumstances, and tends to collapse.
According to the concept of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), successful resource allocation is based on three criteria: social equality, ecological sustainability, and economic efficiency. My analysis shows that it is difficult to promote these three goals equally as there are certain trade-offs between them. None of the successful cases in the study achieved all three goals concomitantly.
My findings also generated the following hypotheses:
– Local embedding and social networks matter;
– Water management in traditional small-scale systems is ecologically and economically successful but not necessarily socially equal; on the contrary, traditional water management often relies on hierarchical structures;
– Technical innovation and monetization offer the opportunity to break free from traditional systems, which are subject to local concepts of status;
– Institutional arrangements are relevant to ecological sustainability, provided that the ‘categorical rights’ (de-jure) correspond to the ‘concretized rights’ (de-facto or practised).
Key terms: small-scale irrigation, rural South, resource allocation, NIE, IWRM, water management, water rights, sustainability.