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The constitution of hydrosocial power: agribusiness and water scarcity in Ica, Peru

Gerardo H. Damonte, Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE); Social Sciences Department, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP)


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During the 2000s, the Ica region, located on the Peruvian coast, gained notoriety as the main stage of what the media and politicians called the “agricultural export miracle.” The exponential growth of nontraditional exports that ensued, along with the rising importance of the agroindustry in generating foreign currency, led to the emergence of an agribusiness elite as an important new social actor. Through a range of strategies aimed at consolidating and expanding its power over state and nonstate actors, the agribusiness elite has been able to overexploit scarce groundwater resources in the pursuit of economic growth without opposition. Thus, the question that guides this article is, how did the agribusiness elite secure access to valuable groundwater resources to the verge of depletion despite the attempts of regional and local authorities to regulate water use? Based on a political ecology perspective, I argue that a political settlement between the agribusiness elite, certain state sectors, and local actors, based on a shared neoliberal development discourse, has laid the foundations for the agribusiness elite to concentrate its hydropower in the region. In developing this argument, I analyze the elite’s strategies to reproduce the different dimension of hydropower as well as the fragmented and sometimes contradictory political positioning of different state agencies. This article contributes to the literature by unpacking the extractivist state and the elite’s strategies to reproduce its hydrosocial power.

Key words

agribusiness; elites; Ica; Peru; political settlements; power; state policies; water governance; water scarcity

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087