Encounters with the moral economy of water: convergent evolution in Valencia

Autores UPV
Revista Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Water


This article presents the results of comparative fieldwork on the huerta of Valencia in Spain, a successful community-managed irrigation system of medium scale, one governed collectively by thousands of small farmers organized into 10 autonomous but highly interdependent irrigator groups. The study tested a model identified previously in research on successful systems of much smaller scale in Peru, a set of principles of operation that, when affirmed by farmers and obeyed as collective-choice rules, interact to create equity among water rights and transparency in water use in an unusual way. The authors show that a nearly identical set are at work in all 10 communities of Valencia, revealing the unique manner in which these work together to promote successful and sustainable cooperation, both within and between the user groups, and arguing that their presence in Spain and the Andes is indicative, not of diffusion from one continent to another, but of independent invention. These principles together laid the foundations for separate Andean and Islamic hydraulic traditions, which were often manifested locally in robust and equitable systems of the same general type, here called the moral economy of water. This kind of communal system appears to have emerged repeatedly, and often independently, in a great many other locales and settings throughout the world; its adaptive dynamics are shown to be of great relevance to small farmers today as they face the growing scarcity of water being induced by population growth and by climate change.