Water users’ associations from the users’ perspective: local water management at Thabina irrigation scheme, Limpopo, South Africa

13 January 2011

At a time when the South African water department and a circle of water experts in the country are defining their position on water users’ associations (WUAs), this paper looks at people’s actions and perceptions of local water management as a fundamental factor to understanding small farmers’ interactions with these newly established institutions. It presents the preliminary results of a community study conducted at Thabina irrigation scheme, Limpopo, between September 2007 and April 2008. This study offers an original approach to analyzing the scheme’s difficulties and, without providing a representative image of smallholder irrigation schemes in South Africa, it allows for interesting preliminary reflections around small farmers’ perceptions of water management and local water management institutions. The study of perceptions is not new, nor does it belong as an analytical tool to one or other academic discipline. In order to fully grasp this complex and multidimensional object, a transdisciplinary approach is therefore applied and implemented in the field by using an innovative set of methods: interviews, verbal associations and participatory photography. The advantages and difficulties related to the use of a perception and transdisciplinary approach are discussed.