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Irrigation management in East Asia: Institutions, socio-economic transformation and adaptations

Raymond Yu Wang
Center for Social Sciences, Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, China; wangy63@sustech.edu.cn

Wai-Fung Lam
The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; dwflam@hkucc.hku.hk

Jinxia Wang
China Centre for Agricultural Policy, School of Advanced Agricultural Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China; jxwang.ccap@pku.edu.cn

ABSTRACT: Irrigation management encapsulates human capacity for building and sustaining collective cooperation, which is directed at the allocation and utilisation of water as a common-pool resource. Although rooted in rural communities, irrigation management is also subject to macro socio-economic and ecological settings that mediate micro human-nature relations. In East Asia, the long-established tradition of irrigation management has been confronting a series of new challenges such as an ageing and decreasing rural populations, increasing regional and sectoral competition for water, the growing influence of neoliberalism, and shifting public policies that reshape state-society-market interactions. This Special Issue aims at revisiting irrigation management in East Asia against the backdrop of rapid socio-economic transformation. In this introductory article, we set the scene by illustrating why the understanding of irrigation management should be situated in a broader socio-economic and political context. We then briefly summarise the key findings of the collection of papers in this Special Issue. It is shown that external challenges do not necessarily lead to the failure of irrigation management. New features of irrigation practices (for example, institutional reinvention and restructuring) may emerge as public, communal and private actors who co-manage irrigation systems respond and adapt to societal and environmental changes.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, institutions, socio-economic transformation, adaptation, East Asia