Rescaling irrigation in Latin America: The cultural images and political ecology of water resources

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A pair of scales - local canal-based (or village-based) and basin-scale (or valley-wide) - is featured in the irrigation of the mountain landscapes of Latin America. These scales arose historically through the interplay of cultural images with the political ecologies of agrarian transformation. In the Cochabamba region of Bolivia, long the irrigated breadbasket of the south-central Andes, the Inca state (c. 1495-1539) imposed canal-based irrigation using a powerful concept of rotational sharing (suyu). Valley basins containing local irrigation were a part of the territorial web of Inca state geography known later as verticality. The Spanish empire in Andean South America (1539-1825) was predicated upon a valley-centric colonial geography. Colonial rescaling involved despoliation and usurpation of waterworks, legal actions, and struggles over environmental change. Influence of the two irrigation scales has persisted. Today canal-based irrigation is not a timeless relict of indigenous customs, pace many postcolonial projects. Rather its usefulness, and its remarkable reinvention as a cultural concept and environmental creation, are the products of major modifications. Dismantling of multi-scale linkages in irrigation has reduced indigenous or peasant cross-scale co-ordination. Local containment poses threats to the environmental and socio-economic sustainability of canal-based irrigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)150-175
Number of pages26
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations


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