Perceiving the environment through relationships: Argentinian agribusiness owners’ decisions about management and their relationships with neighbors

Poonam Arora, Manhattan College, Nicole Peterson, UNC Charlotte, Federico Bert, University of Buenos Aires, and Guillermo Podesta, University of Miami (Charlotte, NC): Perceiving the environment through relationships: Argentinian agribusiness owners’ decisions about management and their relationships with neighbors

Video below

In this paper, we examine the intersections between land management decisions and social interdependencies, in which outcomes of one person or a group of people depend on the decisions of others. Social interdependencies can affect outcomes when resources cross boundaries or are communal in nature, as seen in work on commons dilemmas. In addition to shared outcomes, interdependencies also include instances when individuals experience diverse or uneven outcomes due in part to the interconnectedness of individuals, resources, and decisions. A key issue for social interdependencies is whether or not these connections are recognized and the strategies for managing these connections. We examine data from fifteen interviews with agrobusinessmen in the Argentine Pampas to argue that these men understand and respond to issues of water scarcity (drought) and excess (flooding) in significantly different ways, particularly in their ideas about the social (non-individual) causes and consequences of these kinds of events. We used a variety of scenarios to elicit decisions and strategies for a range of water-related events, as well as discussions of historical droughts and floods. We claim that differences between discussions of flood and drought events, both in terms of the physical events and the social relationships around them, lead to a different set of strategies for handling them. In the case of flood, for example, we see that informal or formal canals become a way for individuals to manage their flood risks in consultation with neighboring farms who be downstream from these canals. However, farmers approach the absence of water in a very individualistic manner, and do not see the potential for their water access activities to affect the water availability of their neighbors.

We contend that understanding farming decisions requires recognizing the importance of a wide range of factors, including the cognitive models of the hydrological system and the local social group, past experiences, and current forecasts or events. In reacting to threats of drought and flood, the agribusinessmen weight these factors differently, as well as the importance of uncertainty and losses to them. We hypothesize that our interviewees thinking about drought and flood differently for one of two reasons. First, that they have more experience with flooding than with drought, and so have developed more elaborate strategies, and also view drought as a complete loss, rather than the partial loss of flooding, in their experiences. The second possible reason for seeing these two events differently is that groundwater (drought) and surface water (flooding) are actually distinct in their characteristics. In this paper, we test both of these possibilities against interview and precipitation data, and discuss the relevance for agricultural management strategies.