The politics of PVC: Technology and institutions in upland water management in northern Thailand

Nathan Badenoch
Northern Agriculture and Forestry Research Center/Ramboll Natura, Vientiane, Lao PDR; baideanach@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Conflict over water has grown in the mountainous areas of Thailand since the replacement of opium with alternative crops. PVC-sprinkler irrigation has enabled dry-season expansion of these cash crops on sloping lands, intensifying demand for water when it is most scarce. The technology and institutions that form the backbone of these irrigation systems have evolved simultaneously in a process of adaptive governance, in which local farmers draw on local social resources to balance competition and cooperation. Common conceptions of upstream€-downstream conflict, pitting Thai against ethnic minorities in a struggle for resources, dominate the discourse of watersheds in Thailand. Upland water users themselves are diverse and their resource management systems are dynamic, even if they are not recognised as legitimate users of water. Understanding how upland communities create local systems of resource governance through dry-season irrigation is highly relevant for governance at higher levels, such as in the efforts to establish watershed networks and river basin organisations.

KEYWORDS: Water management, adaptive governance, sprinkler irrigation, institutional development, Northern Thailand