Infrastructuring drip irrigation: The gendered assembly of farmers, laborers and state subsidy programs

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This paper examines the relationship between the diffusion of drip irrigation technology, state subsidy programs to encourage its adoption by farmers, and gendered labor dynamics. Drip irrigation is promoted globally as a water conserving agricultural innovation that enhances water-use and productive efficiency by increasing yields with less water, while freeing up “saved” water for other uses. India leads the world in its rate of expansion and in total area. Relying on analyses of government drip irrigation policies and ethnographic field research conducted between 2015 and 2020 in the Indian state of Rajasthan, I find the successful diffusion of drip irrigation is dependent upon state subsidies, farmer adoption decisions and the availability of female labor. I engage conceptual work on water conservation technologies, and from feminist political ecology and infrastructure studies to argue: (1) the diffusion of drip irrigation is better understood as a gendered process of infrastructuring; which (2) is an ongoing process of the assembly of state subsidies, the aggregation of decentralized individual farmer adoption decisions, and the availability of on-demand, underpaid female labor; where (3) female laborers provide a “feminine labor subsidy” that produces productive efficiency gains and lends drip irrigation infrastructure its durability. Conceptualizing drip irrigation as a gendered process of infrastructuring, renders visible its emergent and gendered material politics. The conclusion discusses prospects for reassembling drip irrigation infrastructure in more materially just ways and its implications for the political ecology of water infrastructure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-152
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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