Large-scale irrigation as maladaptation?

Agricultural landscapes are dynamic environments which change in response to cropping and trade opportunities, available technologies and climatic conditions. In this article, led by McGill University researcher Amaia Albizua, we investigate farmers’ vulnerability to climate-related stressors and crop price volatility in rural Navarre, Spain. Specifically, we analyse the extent to which livelihood differences and vulnerability can be partly explained by the development of a large-scale irrigation project promoted by the Spanish and regional governments. Grounded on qualitative and quantitative data gathered across 22 villages, we demonstrate that small-scale diversified farmers appear the most vulnerable and least able to adapt to climate-related stressors and crop price volatility. In contrast, more market-driven, large-scale intensive farmers, who participate in the irrigation project, are the least vulnerable to these stressors. We argue that the irrigation project has increased the short-term adaptive capacity of irrigation adopters while establishing the institutional conditions for the displacement of small-scale farming. Therefore, we suggest that farmers’ vulnerability in Navarre can be explained by maladaptive irrigation policies designed to favour large-scale and market-driven agriculture. To access the article, click on link above or contact me at esteve.corbera@uab.cat. Picture copyright Amaia Albizua.

Why we (might) disagree over ecosystem services for poverty alleviation

In a new article published (open access) in Oryx (Howe et al. 2018), we expose why we might disagree over how best to pursue the provision of ecosystem services and the eradication of poverty.  We suggest that as the concept of ecosystem services is applied more widely in conservation, its users will encounter the issue of poverty alleviation and, subsequently, be tempted to conceal the trade-offs that the conservation of ecosystem services and poverty alleviation might entail. Modelling our argument on an earlier essay about conservation and poverty (Adams et al., 2004, in Science), we explore the different views that underlie apparent agreement.

We identify five normative positions that reflect different mixes of concern for ecosystem condition, poverty and economic growth:

(1) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that facilitate biodiversity conservation;

(2) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that maintain their functional integrity;

(3) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that protect & secure the existing lives & livelihoods of the poor;

(4) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that bring new benefits to the poor; and

(5) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that maximize economic growth.

In the article, we depict the narratives, policy recipes, and the main advocates behind each position, and we suggest that acknowledging these helps to uncover the subjacent goals of policy interventions and the trade-offs they involve in practice. We think that ‘the policy rhetoric on ecosystem services and poverty alleviation, with its search for common causes, can serve to erase or obscure fundamental differences in goals or objectives. Failure to acknowledge differences between these positions obscures choices and risks undermining sustainable and just outcomes’. Therefore, we argue that recognizing the existence of such positions can ultimately support the emergence of more legitimate and robust policies.

REDD+ Crossroads Post Paris: Politics, Lessons and Interplays

Red goes well with Xmas, or so they say. So I’m pleased to share with you today, the outcome of a new special issue, guest edited with my former colleague at the University of East Anglia, Heike Schroeder. Over the past two years, we have put together a large collection of articles exploring the politics, the early lessons and the institutional interplays of REDD+ preparedness in developing countries. The collection is freely available through open access, and you can download all the contributions here.

The contributions to the special issue suggest, first, that REDD+ design in the studied countries has generally lacked social legitimacy and sidelined key actors who can considerably influence land-use sector dynamics. Second, they show that REDD+ early actions have tended to oversimplify local realities and have been misaligned and local needs. Third, REDD+ efforts have remained constrained to the forestry or climate mitigation policy sectors and have thus suffered from a lack of policy harmonization.

As REDD+ moves from its preparedness to its implementation phase, Heike and myself argue that more research efforts should be aimed at analysing the power relations that underpin and determine the design and implementation of REDD+ policies and actions, the potential for and limits to the vertical and horizontal coordination of land-use policies and management, and the processes of resistance to or accommodation of REDD+ practices on the ground. In doing so, we advocate for multi- and transdisciplinary research that does not take for granted the benefits of REDD+ and which critically scrutinizes the multiple goals of this ambitious international policy framework, and where it sits within the broader Paris Agreement implementation agenda.

Picture: Women in Chiapas, Mexico, carrying fuelwood. Their community participates in a carbon forestry project. © Esteve Corbera

Climate change policies and agrarian-environmental transformations

Routledge Development Studies launched two special issues together from the Journal of Peasant Studies and Canadian Journal of Development StudiesBoth collections are on the broad themes of climate change mitigation/adaptation and agrarian-environmental transformations. Both collections are open access for a limited period of time.

I had the honour of guest editing the collection published in CJDS, with colleagues Carol Hunsberger (University of Western Ontario) and Chayan Vaddhanaphuti (University of Chiang Mai). The articles in the collection explore a range of themes in the intersection of climate change policy, land grabbing and social conflict, and include cross-scalar and case study analyses of different kinds.

In the Introductory article, we contextualise the special issue and lay out the key contributions made by each contribution. Hunsberger et al. propose a research agenda to explore the interconnections between climate change policies, land grabbing and conflict; these interconnections, they argue, can only be meaningfully understood if one transcends the territorial boundaries of land grabs themselves. Claeys and Delgado Pugley’s contribution (2017) offers a neat account of how two key transnational social movements – the agrarian movement La Via Campesina (LVC) and the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) – have developed distinctive climate justice framings to advance rights-based considerations under the UNFCCC. Franco et al. shed light onto the often problematic translation of well-intended policy into practice, by problematising an array of international regulatory instruments, including state- and corporate-led, that are available to respond to conflicts arising from agrarian transformations driven by agricultural development and climate change policies.

The second half of the special issue concentrates on specific case studies. Work and Thuon explore the intersection of change mitigation policies and economic land concessions in Prey Lang, Cambodia, demonstrating how these two processes facilitate each other physically, discursively and economically. Pye et al. focus on the interactions between different types of resource extraction endeavours along the Kapuas River, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The authors document a number of land-use transformations based on differing appropriation and accumulation strategies according to resource (minerals, lumber, oil palm, fish), scale of operations (smallholders, transnational firms) and the relationships among the economic and political actors. Lamb and Dao explore how Chinese investment has facilitated hydropower projects in Myanmar and Vietnam, and with what consequences. They make evident that governments from both countries need to develop more effective, transparent and robust systems of hydropower governance, while scholars and activists need to understand critiques of Chinese investment from a broader historical, cultural and political economy perspective. Finally, Uson interrogates a post-disaster intervention on a small island of the Philippines, after the typhoon Haiyan devastated the country in 2013. She unveils how a humanitarian intervention, coupled with climate change adaptation policy and discourse, changed the direction of an existing land rights struggle between landowners, a private tourist operator and fisherfolk communities.

This special issue described above, together with the JPS special issue, have deserved a very kind praise by Nancy Lee Peluso, University of California, Berkeley, who has suggested that ‘the authors bring new theoretical approaches, collaborative sensibilities, and hybrid perspectives on socio-natural histories and resource politics together with long-held concerns with the fates of smallholders, commodity productions under varied and opposing regimes, and a panoply of agrarian resources and activities including and beyond agriculture’.

I hope you enjoy reading them all!

Payments for Environmental Services: a theory-informed review

Building on a theory-based approach to synthesize research on the effectiveness of PES in achieving environmental objectives and socio-economic co-benefits, this article led by Jan Börner and published in World Development highlights the role of (1) contextual dimensions (e.g., political, institutional, and socio-economic conditions, spatial heterogeneity in environmental service values and provision costs, and interactions with pre-existing policies), and (2) scheme design (e.g., payment type and level, contract length, targeting, and differentiation of payments) in determining environmental and socio-economic outcomes. We also review counterfactual-based empirical evaluations, comparative analyses of case-studies, and meta-analyses. Our review suggests that program effectiveness often lags behind the expectations of early theorists. However, we also find that theory has advanced sufficiently to identify common reasons for why payment schemes fail or succeed. Moreover, payment schemes are often rolled out along with other policy instruments in so-called policy mixes. Advances in theory and evaluation research are needed to improve our understanding of how such policy mixes interact with the targeted social-ecological systems.

The full article can be found here, or requested by email if you don’t have access to the publishing journal.