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Identifying Water-Poverty Links at Plot Level:

Author(s): An Application of Land Use System Analysis to Agriculture in Brazil
Congress: 2008
Author(s): Stephen Vosti, Lisa Bennett, Luis Bassoi, Marco Maneta, Lineu Rodrigues, Marcelo Torres, Richard Howitt, Wesley Wallender
University of California, Davis Brazilian Agricultural Research Enterprise (Embrapa)

Keyword(s): Water-Poverty Links, Water Productivity, Water Policy, Land Use Systems Analysis, Brazil
AbstractIntroduction: Rural poverty has persisted in the São Francisco River Basin (SFRB) of Brazil for many decades, and policies aimed at increasing water productivity are being looked to as a means of this eliminating poverty. The success or failure of these water policies will depend on the willingness and ability of resource-poor farmers to adopt new farming practices; empirical measures of factors related to willingness and ability to adopt are often lacking in policymaking arenas. Understanding water-poverty links in rural areas requires a detailed assessment of the interrelationships between inputs (especially household labor) and outputs in agriculture, and how these interrelationships change when cropping patterns, production technologies, or prices change. Some input/output relationships change over time (e.g.) as soils become depleted and some production systems can endure for many years (e.g.) as perennial tree crops mature; assessment tools must capture these system-specific characteristics. Objectives: We present and discuss land use system analysis (LUS), an analytical framework for defining, measuring and in some cases valuing the economic, water use/productivity, and other consequences associated with changes in land use/cover; discuss data needs; apply LUS to an array of agricultural systems in the SFRB; and evaluate the results of LUS analysis and distill policy messages. Methods: LUS analysis takes as its point of departure a single piece of land and analyzes its use by an archetypical farmer over time (carefully measuring and valuing inputs, including family labor, and outputs; all data are derived from fieldwork) under alternative cropping patterns and production technologies. This spatial unit of analysis sits in the mid-range of typical units of observations of biophysical and social scientists; it is ‘larger’ than the unit of observation for most agronomic experiments but much ‘smaller’ than a landscape; the operational holdings of households are usually comprised of several LUS. The framework differs from others presented previously in that it: (1) specifies land use system trajectories, including technology, land area, and the timeline associated with each system; (2) defines and presents performance indicators for each land use system selected; and (3) defines the socioeconomic and geographic setting for the analysis. Results: An array of land use systems throughout the SFRB (from goat/sheep production through irrigated table grape production) is examined to assess each system’s economic performance (and hence contribution to reducing poverty) and water productivity. Some investments in irrigation technology pay off and some of these also increase water productivity, but not always. On-farm establishment costs of irrigation systems are demonstrated to be substantial when compared to net benefits derived from these systems; in the absence of affordable credit, these up-front costs can limit adoption. Electrical energy costs associated with on-farm conveyance (and in some cases, water deliveries to farm gate) may be the most important element of the operational costs of irrigation (generally trumping labor costs), and also can be an important source of uncertainty/risk, especially to smallholders. Conclusions: The correlation between the economic performance of land use systems and measures of their water productivity is not one; this is especially true if economic performance is measured in terms of returns to family labor. This is in part true because on-farm investments in water conveyance systems are expensive to establish and operate; moreover, the former have to be paid up-front and the latter are subject to great uncertainty. Therefore, while agricultural modernization (however promoted) will likely bring with it increases in the efficiency of water use, a narrow policy focus on increasing water productivity will not likely solve poverty problems.
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