Spatial Dynamics of Water Governance and Crop Production in Irrigated Smallholder Agricultural Systems

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"Smallholder agriculturalists in semi-arid regions face many challenges to agricultural production. This includes increasingly unpredictable precipitation events. Irrigation plays a role in adapting to these climatic events, as it can salvage harvests by bridging unexpected dry periods. Nevertheless, reliable access to irrigation water is often predicated on effective water management. Institutions shaping water availability are most effective if they are designed in accordance with local environments, are flexible enough to adapt to ever-changing conditions, and are crafted through the input of local-level resource users, among other traits. In this dissertation, I inspect the interplay between water governance, water availability, and smallholder adaptation within a set of communities in the Mount Kenya region. More specifically, three empirical chapters inspect: (1) Smallholder adaptation through one type of on-farm practice, crop diversification; (2) The readjustment of local-level water institutions following a policy shift at the national-level and the resulting impact on water availability; and (3) The contextual drivers of smallholder water availability as well as asymmetries between household-level availability. Several important findings are revealed. Regarding crop diversification, households that are frequently visited by agricultural extension officers and are located in areas with higher average rainfall also grow a greater number of crops. This suggests a need to ensure that households in drier areas have access to extension education as well as irrigation. Concerning reorientation of local-level institutions following a national policy shift, the willingness to adjust management approaches is often dependent on perceived advantages/disadvantages from changing strategies. Water managers that believe they will be disadvantaged by the policy shift are more reluctant to adopt new water sharing practices and may only alter their management practices if required to do so by regional and national level authorities. Finally, concerning the drivers of household-level water availability, a host of institutional, infrastructural, and biophysical elements influence water delivery, suggesting that in assessing resource provisioning outcomes in social-ecological systems, contextual elements at multiple scales need to be evaluated. This analysis also finds that vast disparities in water availability exist within and across communities, a finding that highlights the need develop new strategies to evaluate asymmetries in resource provisioning."
water management, crops