The confluence of indigenous and scientific knowledge of managing water and mediating conflicts in Burkina Faso

The confluence of indigenous and scientific knowledge of managing water and mediating conflicts in Burkina Faso

Carla RONCOLI1 and And Ben ORLOVE2; Brian DOWD-URIBE3; Moussa SANON4

1 Emory University, USA 2 Columbia University, USA 3 University of San Francisco, USA 4 Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles, Burkina Faso

This paper draws upon long-term fieldwork conducted in southwest Burkina Faso, an area characterized by climate uncertainty and competing claims over water resources by a diversity of actors endowed with different levels of power and types of knowledge. Local communities include smallholder farmers, fishers, and pastoralists who have moved into the area from drought-affected northern regions. Water users also include urban residents and a large irrigated sugar plantation. Increasing variability in rainfall and water supplies, linked to climate change, has exacerbated competition over water resources and tensions among this diverse set of users. Through interviews based on photograph elicitation, we studied understandings of water flows and fluctuations from smallholder farmers who cultivate plots along the riverbanks. We contrast local assessments of water sufficiency with the scientific measurements used by a local water management committee – established by recent water sector reform to mitigate conflicts among users. Knowledge forms and claims are intrinsic to negotiations over water allocation: while the committee’s deliberations are driven by scientific data and expertise, traditional knowledge of water and waterways enables smallholder farmers to formulate their own judgments and to demand that their needs be taken into account. Pastoralists, on the other hand, remain marginalized from the local committee, due to its emphasis on agricultural water use. Their main concern is about access to water sources for their herds, which is being hindered by the expansion of riparian farming. Efforts to address climate change impacts on water supplies through participatory institutions must be sensitive to the plurality of understandings and uses of natural resources that exist within local societies.



Carla Roncoli (PhD, Binghamton University) is Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Anthropology and Associate Director for the Masters’ in Development Practice at Emory University. Prior to joining Emory Roncoli worked at the University of Georgia with interdisciplinary research projects aimed to build climate resilience among smallholder farmers and agro-pastoralists, especially in West Africa. Her research focuses on the interaction of indigenous and scientific knowledge in climate risk management in agriculture and has contributed to the development of climate information services across Africa. As a collaborating researcher with the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), she has analyzed issues of social inclusion in decentralized environmental governance in southwest Burkina Faso.

Ben Orlove (PhD, University of California, Berkeley) is an anthropologist who has conducted field work in the Peruvian Andes since the 1970s as well as interdisciplinary research in West and East Africa, the Italian Alps, and Aboriginal Australia. While his early work focused on agriculture, fisheries and rangelands, he now primarily focuses on climate change and glacier retreat, with an emphasis on water, natural hazards. and the loss of iconic landscapes. Orlove is a co-director of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED). Orlove served on the faculty at the University of California Davis, prior to joining Columbia University, where he now co-directs the Master’s Program in Climate and Society. He is also a Senior Research Scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

Brian Dowd-Uribe (PhD, University of California, Santa Cruz) and Assistant Professor in the International Studies Department at the University of San Francisco and an Adjunct Research Scientist with the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University. He was previously Chair of the Department of Environment and Development at the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. His work focuses on the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of food, agriculture and water policies in Africa and Latin America. Specifically, he explores the impacts of transgenic crops on local farming practices and livelihoods in Burkina Faso.

Moussa Sanon (PhD, National School of Agriculture, Rennes, France) is Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Natural Resources Management and Farming Systems of the National Environmental and Agricultural Research Institute (INERA) of Burkina Faso. As an agronomist he specializes in analyzing and modeling irrigation/water management and climate impacts on agriculture. He has also worked with interdisciplinary research projects centered on applications of seasonal rainfall forecasts to adaptation in agriculture. For several years, Dr. Sanon was seconded to the Millennium Challenge Account Program/Burkina Faso, where he coordinated research and development activities on Integrated Water Resources Management.

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