The Influence of Global Agricultural Production Networks on Processes of Water Governance

  • Nora Lanari

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

This thesis addresses a gap in the Global Production Network (GPN) literature by investigating how globalised agricultural production influences processes of water governance. Despite increased concerns over environmental sustainability and climate change, academic inquiry informed by GPN has largely ignored the environmental dynamics that underpin globalised agricultural production. The research investigates this relationship in South Africa’s Western Cape, interrogating how the export-oriented fruit
industry influences processes of water governance. Water is a useful lens to study this link as it is essential for crop production but is also a basic human need, emphasising the imperative for water governance to balance competing priorities. In the Western
Cape, this matters because water is scarce, crucial for economic development, and continues to be unequally distributed along racial lines due to the country’s apartheid legacy. The thesis is based on an extensive documentary analysis and 76 semistructured interviews with fruit producers, government officials, and representatives from industry associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which allowed the collection of actor-specific information and structural-level data. The study reveals how
the influence of global agricultural production networks manifests and affects the wider water governance regime, contributing to GPN theory and water governance literature.

This research shows that the Western Cape fruit industry faces a series of water risks, which are driving its deployment of multiple mitigating strategies to ensure water security for its productive activities. These strategies have direct implications for water
governance as they present a dominant discourse that depoliticises water allocation – arguably the core concern of water governance. This depoliticisation is achieved by positioning the Western Cape fruit industry as (1) efficient and (2) consisting of legally compliant water users, who are (3) significant creators of employment and economic growth. Consequently, and despite the political reorientation after apartheid in 1994, the Western Cape fruit industry has maintained access to and control over water resources
to produce high-value crops for global markets. The present-day political economy of South Africa enables these dynamics because of the tension between the country’s neoliberal economic policy and its political project of achieving redress and equity. Therefore, investigating the relationship between water and agricultural production and trade is not only important for understanding how increased competition over fresh water will affect global production, distribution and consumption, but it also offers valuable insights into the dynamics that determine the effectiveness of water governance regimes.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorDavid Bek (Supervisor), Lyndon Simkin (Supervisor) & Jill Timms (Supervisor)

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