This session critically reflected on how academics co-produce knowledge through field research in communities dealing with river and water use issues. To illustrate the theme, the session included specific research experiences on wetland restoration in the Middle Magdalena River in Colombia. Juliana Forigua reflected on knowledge production involving fishing communities and feminist approaches. In that, she considered the connection between power, knowledge, and academia, and specifically talked about her involvement in building non-exploitative relationships between researchers and riverine communities.
In social research, who we are influences and determines how we organize reality, as posed by Juliana. Research, therefore, is a reflexive exercise about the authority and political legitimacy of knowledge. Producing knowledge is always a political process, a political decision, and a political commitment. Juliana explained that it is important for her, as a researcher, to bring to the table the structures of feminist political ecology and the practices of caring for oneself and others during fieldwork: this implies bringing into the conversation the politics of empathy and interpretation. To this end, she stressed that it is necessary to emphasize that fieldwork is a social contract between the researcher, social organizations, and academia, hence it is a chaotic and contested terrain in which the researcher’s identity is transformed in relation to others. In the presentation, she also invited masters, PhDs, and early career researchers to go beyond the fixed categories of identity: class, race, gender, and sexuality, to seek positional spaces in which many forms of sameness and difference operate simultaneously. Finally, she highlighted her political engagement with artisanal fishermen’s organizations, amplifying their demands and the importance of building the institutional infrastructure to restore Colombia’s waters.
To delve deeper into the topic, Sergio Villamayor Tomas shared a second experience based on recent efforts to build and institutionalize a data collection mechanism at the national level in collaboration with the Spanish Federation of Irrigation Associations (FENACORE). Research institutes currently face challenges in co-producing knowledge with irrigation associations in Spain due to polarized positions on topics such as dam construction and water transfers, which hinder information sharing.
Sergio presented an overview of the institutional and technical irrigation scenario in Spain. Irrigation is a key sector for river governance in the country and yet little data exists that allows to identify patterns across large numbers of irrigation systems. The researcher went on to present the project called DroughtAdapt which was designed to collect survey data on drought adaptation and irrigation modernization across Spanish irrigation associations, in order to assist decision-making processes within the sector, and particularly in partnership with FENACORE (National Federation of Irrigation Associations). The presentation reflected on the challenges and opportunities of co-producing knowledge with large, highly politicized water governance organizations (like FENACORE). Challenges included going through gatekeepers, promoting participation, and gaining trust. Opportunities included the identification of new topics for further collaborative data collection and new data collection strategies that go beyond surveys.
For further information on the presented cases, please download here the presentations:
Juliana Forigua Sandoval – Juliana is an environmental philosopher and a PhD Researcher in the River Commons Project at Wageningen University and Research (Water Resources Management). She has carried out research in environmental conflicts around seeds and conservation in agrarian contexts, feminist political ecology, environmental democracy and decolonial theories. At this stage, her work is about environmental restorative justice in three degraded swamps of the Magdalena River (Colombia) in alliance with the NGO Fundación Alma and fisher communities associations.
Sergio Villamayor Tomas – Sergio is senior researcher at the Instituto de Ciencias y Tecnologias Ambientales (ICTA), Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). He has carried out research on community-based irrigation management, environmental justice movements and cross-boundary river governance. Currently he works with Prof. P. Novo and P. Hoffman and the Federacion Nacional de Comunidades de Regantes de España (FENACORE) in a joint endeavor to coproduce information and data about irrigation communities.