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Robustness, vulnerability, and adaptive capacity in small-scale social-ecological systems: The Pumpa Irrigation System in Nepal

Oguzhan Cifdaloz, ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Ashok Regmi, ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change
John M Anderies, ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change; School of Sustainability
Armando A Rodriguez, Intelligent Embedded Systems Laboratory (IeSL), ASU Fulton School of Engineering

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Abstract

Change in freshwater availability is arguably one of the most pressing
issues associated with global change. Agriculture, which uses roughly
70% of the total global freshwater supply, figures prominently among
sectors that may be adversely affected by global change. Of specific
concern are small-scale agricultural systems that make up nearly 90%
of all farming systems and generate 40% of agricultural output
worldwide. These systems are experiencing a range of novel shocks,
including increased variability in precipitation and competing demands
for water and labor that challenge their capacity to maintain
agricultural output. This paper employs a robustness-vulnerability
trade-off framework to explore the capacity of these small-scale
systems to cope with novel shocks and directed change. Motivated by
the Pumpa Irrigation System in Nepal, we develop and analyze a simple
model of rice-paddy irrigation and use it to demonstrate how
institutional arrangements may, in becoming very well tuned to cope
with specific shocks and manage particular human interactions
associated with irrigated agriculture, generate vulnerabilities to
novel shocks. This characterization of robustness-vulnerability
trade-off relationships is then used to inform policy options to
improve the capacity of small-scale irrigation systems to adapt to
changes in freshwater availability.

Key words

adaptive capacity, agriculture, dynamic systems, food security, freshwater availability, global change, small-scale irrigation systems, mathematical model, Nepal, robustness, social-ecological systems, vulnerability
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087