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Toward a feminist political ecology of household food and water security during drought in northern Nicaragua

Christopher M Bacon, Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University
Lisa C Kelley, Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Denver
Iris T Stewart, Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University


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Few studies assess the relationship between food and water access, despite global concerns about people’s inability to maintain access to both food and water. We conducted a mixed-methods comparative case study in northern Nicaragua, with smallholders from two neighboring communities that differed in water availability and institutional strength, using a feminist political ecology framework and food and water security definitions that focus on access, availability, use, and stability. We adopted a participatory approach that included: a sex-disaggregated survey in 2016; interviews, participant observation, and community-based water quality testing from 2014 to 2019; and analysis of a severe drought that occurred from 2014 to 2017. Our results suggest that uneven power relations, biophysical conditions, gender, and institutions shape food and water access, and indicate that households across both communities average 2 months of drinking water insecurity during the dry season followed by an average of 2.5 months of food insecurity early in the growing season. The average duration of lean food months was similar across communities and sex, but water insecurity lasted longer in the community that had weaker local institutions and less surface water availability. Ethnographic research helped to document uneven and gendered experiences of water access and to illustrate how they were also shaped by conflicts over water for irrigation vs. domestic uses and cross-scalar limitations in water and land governance. Although we found that gender and institutions were not strong predictors of several food and water insecurity indicators on their own, both factors influenced the terms of access, conflict, and cooperative governance needed to secure resources and well-being. Our study highlights the need for theory, methods, and field research that integrate the analysis of food and water security, and it contributes to developing a feminist political ecology approach that unifies this analysis with a focus on gender.

Key words

Central America; community-based research; drought; feminist political ecology; food security; water security

Copyright © 2022 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