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Accueil > Publications > Dernières publications

Article by Olivia Aubriot (CESAH), published in Cahiers Agricultures 2023, vol. 32 entitled "Irrigated Land Tenure : Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development"

"Irrigated land tenure and access to water in South Asian rice fields"


The aim of this article is to initiate a discussion based on a new reading of field data I collected in Nepal and South India that was triggered by the notion of irrigated land tenure. The first part deals with the way of applying this notion to rice fields. In South Asia, rice fields occupy a discriminating position in administrative and vernacular classifications, which has been turned upside-down by the surge in groundwater irrigation. Moreover, some rice fields may be cultivated without irrigation thanks to monsoon rains. However, this is not reflected in the traditionally used visual representations of irrigation systems (aerial photos, satellite images, maps of irrigation networks) that overlook farmers’ difficulties to access to water. The notion of irrigated land tenure, hence, has some limitation in the case of rice cultivation, if non-irrigated rice fields are not clearly identified. However, this notion has the advantage of making explicit the interest to analyse the links between water rights and land rights, which is the purpose of the second part of this paper. In a context of legal pluralism, the examples discussed show the diversity of these interactions : in some cases water rights are modified so as to increase the size of the irrigated land ; in others the use of water is instrumental in obtaining a legitimate land right. In contrast, in the case of tenancy situations, the status of land tenure continues to jeopardize access to water. The tenure status of an irrigated or potentially irrigable land is important to consider in order to understand the dynamics of water management.

Keywords : irrigation ; rice fields ; water rights ; land rights ; India ; Nepal

To read the whole article (in French)