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State development and the rescaling of agricultural hydrosocial governance in semi-arid Northwest China

Afton Clarke-Sather
Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA;

ABSTRACT: Over the past 20 years, agriculture in the semi-arid Zuli river valley in Northwest China has been transformed from subsistence to commercial production. Instead of spring wheat and millet, peasants now grow maize, potatoes, and cabbage for national markets. This transformation has been facilitated by a series of interventions that have rescaled agricultural hydrosocial relations in the valley. Many of these interventions, such as alternative cash crops, do not fall under what is traditionally considered water governance, but have altered peasants'€™ relationship with agricultural water nonetheless. This article (1) calls for a broadening of our understanding of scale in hydrosocial relations that gives more attention to the socioeconomic interactions that facilitate human relationships with water in the absence of the biophysical resource of water; (2) illustrates that state-backed rescaling of hydrosocial relations comprises contingent processes, which may or may not be planned; and (3) examines how water governance can mean examining what people do without water, as well as what people do with water. This article illustrates that a diverse set of state actors govern farmers'€™ relationships with agricultural water in often conflicting ways by rescaling both the biophysical resource of water, and socioeconomic institutions that affect agricultural water use.