The 13th IASC International Conference was held in Hyderabad, India in mid January. It was my first time at such a big gathering of common pool resources community, and with over 500 participants and 11 parallel sessions, the conference, I must admit, has been much more than one could possibly digest. The relief was the plenary when you just did not have to be confused looking into your little conference programme book choosing a possible panel.
But first there were the pre-conference workshops. I went to the one on “Analytical Frameworks as Learning Heuristics in Common Pool Resource Research”. It was a lively group of scholars discussing various approaches to CPR, especially the logic and methods to study these comparatively. There was a presentation on QCA, which has lost me in the middle (I must admit I become suspicious whenever coefficients appear on the screen), and then there was a nice presentation by Assistant Professor at Freie Universiteit Berlin, Andreas Thiel on institutional design and comparative research. I could connect here and have asked a few questions and arranged for a meeting for lunch with him next day. The rest of the day was spent on working on the document for the LiveDiverse Project meeting next week. The evening was celebrated with a grand opening ceremony in some Park in Hyderabad. This was the FEAST, I swear. Now, as a faithful academic I attend conferences in good faith for knowledge and insight exchange, but I wish more conferences would have taken examples from the IASC here. The cultural performance with the dancers, fusion of local music and rap, the dance of women and kids with painted faces and amazing, amazing dancers with long metal pipes of few meters balanced on their heads with fire sparkling from the top – this was the heap of excitement and amazement that collectively captured the community of otherwise skeptical scholars.
The official part of the opening was also exciting. Elinor Ostrom gave a talk, as well as Ruth Meinxen-Dick and there was the jewel of the day, the presentation of the Minister of the Environment of India, Mr. Shri Jairam Ramesh.
In the water panel there was a discussion of IWMI irrigation policies and after lunch (during which I had an informative chat with Andreas Thiel about our work) I went to the special event of the book discussion by Ostrom and Wai Fung Lam. This book focussed on the irrigation waer distribution in a Nepali village that is pretty homogeneous and that was studies in the end 1980s and now revisited to see the long durance of institutional arrangements implemented there. One of the key problems with this work is its generalizability. Another, is to what extent can one really compare the same system 20 years ago and now? This was the criticism of Bina Agarwal who sat in the audience. Feminization of agriculture is typical in this area due to exodus of men to join the Maoist groups. The exogenous factors seem to play a major role unaccounted for by the QCA analysis of Ostrom et al., so it seemed to me. Something I took from this talk is that the tail end intensity of irrigation is a good indicator of equality in water distribution in this type of settings.
There was a Water Panel in which a speaker gave a talk about the water pollution is a small craft village in Vietnam. It made me wonder why people study so insignificant topics? Funding, my deal marquisa, funding…
The talk of Thiel on his comparative work of institutional design in Portugal, Spain and Germany under the process of WFD was captivating. He has a link to agency approach by talking about a political party in Spain and an individual in Portugal who triggered change, also talks about significant structural differences, such as the federal vs. unitary state system. The paper is available on the stick and I may share it here, if he does not object (need to confirm with him).
The next interesting Policy Forum is a discussion on water policy in India with distinguished panelists, such as Ramaswari Iyer, Narayanan NC, Chavez Daniel, Sunita Narain and others. The discussion was about the new water policy in India, the old concepts, such as WUA, IWRM and pricing. I raised the question of whether the international policies had anything to do with the genesis of Indian water policy, and the reaction was that in fact, very little. This, in my view, is contestable if one looks at the ready availability of terms and concepts from the water discourse in Indian policy discussions. One person asked if the buzzwords are of any use, and Ramaswary said what i really liked: “policy is made in words, we cannot do without them”. Here we go, buzzwords are inevitable reality of the policy world.
This was the day for fieldtrips. I chose the one on rainwater harvesting neraby Hyderabad that was implemented by ICRASAT. The fieldtrip was useful to see the hydraulic structures to ensure rainwater seepage and harvesting and the possibility of small-scale irrigation, but the fact that there is a small community there, with no obvious (at least to us) conflicts so typical in watershed management, and the fact that the electricity was subsidized and drip irrigation was subsidized (90%) by the government. This left us wonder if the case was sustainable for upscaling. The next meeting was at ICRASAT global headquarters. We talked about the case and its upscaling, and the major barrier to this was voiced as the government’s commitment. Well, no wonder given the expenses involved (I calculated 60 000 USD per 300 ha system based on their information). We were left with an impression, this was rather a showcase with low potential for upscaling.
The final day was our Panel (LiveDiverse; Complex Commons, Biodiversity). it was a success with over 60 people in the audience and a lovely discussion. The most debated papers were by Yumiko Yasuto on her framework of institutional analysis and Suhas Paranjpe on cultural-spiritual vulnerability in relation to biodiversity in India. It was a good feedback for the project and publicity as we also had a stand of documents and publications from the project outside the room for people to pick.
In addition to this, there was a stand in the stand center with information on the project. It was not as successful as we hoped, and this is due to the low priority the organizers have given to the location and publicity of the stand center. But finally some traffic went through the stands as well, mostly due to the book selling stand and scarf selling vendor nearby…One is saturated with scientific knowledge on the 5th day, so no wonder…
Overall, a great experience and I met many interesting people, both established and young and ambitious. It was nice to see a few familiar faces from encounters before, this means we are in the same community. My main ambition was to learn from the methods and the approach anthropologists and institutional scholars use for policy studies, and I took a few interesting insights.