The landlords, the peasant, and the retention basin: Local political ecology of water management in the small island of Semau, Kupang, Indonesia




  • Kuswardono PT, Mudita IW, Pandie DBW. 2021. The landlords, the peasant, and the retention basin: Local political ecology of water management in the small island of Semau, Kupang, Indonesia. Intl J Trop Drylands 5: 12-19. Freshwater is the most fundamental issue in small islands because small islands have a very small catchment area and a low water retention capacity. To ensure water availability for domestic and agriculture purposes, the Government of Indonesia (GoI) has built hundreds of retention basins in all islands in East Nusa Tenggara Province from 1985 until recent times. In the small island of Semau where the study is undertaken, the availability of more than 24 retention basins did not solve freshwater problem. Inequality of distribution and usage of water from retention basin has become latent issues for more than 20 years. Underwater provision program of GoI, all of small retention basin management were handed over to a local community to become common pool resources (CPR) of the community. However, retention basin as CPR is not happening. Using the Social-Ecological System Framework (SESF), the study found that one of the Governance components of SESF, property rights, is problematic in achieving CPR. Informants from 5 villages interviewed and involved in focused group discussions consistently mentioned the word landlord in stories of water conflict, sabotage, and exclusion of access to water. The word landlord implied a tenurial or property rights system. A landlord had the traditional rights as a land custodian of the retention basin and all resources on his lands. The findings suggested that further investigation of the tenurial system and its transformation was needed whenever a vital construction such as retention basins would occur. In the past, the landlord would wisely distribute land and water as social goods so each person living in his ancestral land would not suffer from hunger. The construction of new retention basins could transform the roles of a landlord from a land custodian into a land-owner and transform common-pool resources into private goods.


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