Water Security for the Inkomati Catchment Smallscale Farmers: Understanding Equitable Water Allocation in a Post-Colonial South Africa

Project by Patience Mukuyu

This project explores how small-scale farmers in the Inkomati experience water insecurity and how they perceive available means for overcoming challenges.

  1. Patience will explore this question through the following sub-questions:
    What is the current historical, legal, and policy context?
  2. Based on their experience, what do small-scale farmers perceive as the main issues around water insecurity? How does climate change impact this perception?
  3. How are farmers organized and what structures do they participate into access water?
  4. How do they use their own knowledge to address challenges and how does this tell us about customary practices and indigenous knowledge as a concept?
  5. What do farmers' experiences of water insecurity tell us about the current legal and policy context?

Significance of study

In the Inkomati Catchment, where this study is focused, evidence points to the marginalization of small-scale farmers and to challenges and barriers in the path to fully accessing and utilizing water compared to the mostly white commercial farmers (Denby et al., 2017; Peters and Woodhouse, 2019). The catchment encompasses former homeland areas made up of mostly small-scale farmers as well as large commercial farmers - mostly white - who use large volumes of water. Barriers to water access for productive uses range from participation, a debatable water scarcity narrative, and knowledge and power inequalities (Kemerink et al, 2011; Denby et al., 2017; Peters and Woodhouse, 2019). While there is knowledge documented around the barriers that small scale farmers face with regards to water access and participation in water management, there is no comprehensive story of what water security actually means for this group of farmers and what shapes it, for example with respect to participation or in the ability to access and utilize the knowledge that enhances water security in their context. How small-scale farmers experience water insecurity may broaden their understanding of the interactions that are at play in achieving water security for small-scale farmers. Borrowing from Jepson et al (2017)’s definition of water security, Patience will unpack the hydro social relations in the Inkomati and how individual small-scale farmers grapple with access to water through the framework of analysis illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1: Water security and small-scale farmers in the Inkomati

This project intends to deepen understanding of how small-scale farmers in the Inkomati experience water (in)security through investigating and understanding water tenure dynamics, participation in decision making, and accessing knowledge that can shape access to water for productive uses. This understanding will be embedded in a critical analysis of the historical and current legal and policy frameworks that are currently implemented to achieve an equitable allocation of water.

Research Methodology

A case study approach A case study of the Inkomati Catchment will be employed to meet the objectives of the study which allows for the use of both qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Through this research study, a deeper understanding of the farmers’ perceptions regarding accessing water, equitable water allocation, and entitlement in the Inkomati catchment will be sought. Analysis of the current state of the legal and policy framework in post-colonial South Africa will help situate and understand the findings. The case study approach is preferred as it provides for in-depth observation and analysis of a single experimental unit (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007) that is informed by broader theories. Findings can therefore be applied elsewhere and contrasted in different settings both for control over water and others.

Further, a case study enables observation at the micro level to be situated within broader contexts (Neuman, 2014). Seawright and Gerring (2008) present different types of case selection types including (i) typical case (ii) diverse (iii) extreme among others. The Inkomati can best be described as a typical case – a case that typifies or exemplifies specific areas of focus. In this regard, the Inkomati catchment offers four (4) key attributes to meet the variables for theoretical analysis.

  1. An established Catchment Management Agency - the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA) offers an established analytical tier in the state apparatus and highlights whether and how more decentralized governance can impact water allocation reforms. Moreover, they have jurisdiction over data concerning volumes of water allocated and to whom. The CMA already expressed support to this Ph.D.
  2. The presence of both commercial and smallholder farmers as well as other water users e.g. mining and urban facilities. The presence of former ‘homeland areas’ where black small-scale farmers are concentrated provides for analyzing customary structures as well as inequality issues in water allocation that persist even today.
  3. Water stress, which exposes tensions in the control and access to water resources, including interests with regard to redistribution of water from those historically advantaged to the disadvantaged.
  4. Cases of land restitution, which can provide insights into practical and conceptual links, or their absence, between land and water reform.

The use of key informant interviews, semi-structured interviews, and focus group discussions will provide different dimensions of the data collected. Quantitative data of actual water use volumes and water use registration data will be further analyzed and add to the triangulation of methods that will add to the credibility of the data collected.

Based on further literature review of supporting theoretical frameworks, including social constructivism, a detailed research design will be developed to guide the specification of questions for resource persons, government officials, and other stakeholders to interview across national, and local tiers.

Local respondents will be selected with the help of the IUCMA officials who hold the water use registers and therefore will guide access into the study area. Appropriate sampling techniques will be applied to the selected sub-catchment to draw smallholder farmer respondents. Due to limitations introduced by the current pandemic, data collection will follow prevailing regulations in terms of face-to-face interviews and self-administration of questionnaires. Activities will include:

  1. Interviews with a sample of 50 - 80 small-scale water users about their experiences and perceptions of equity, water access, and entitlement to water.
  2. Key informant interviews with local catchment and government officials.
  3. Secondary data analysis from the IUCMA database includes water use registration data, demographic statistics, water use licensing data.