Gender Issues and Women's Participation
in Irrigated Agriculture:
the Case of Two Private Irrigation Canals in Carchi, Ecuador
Elena P. Bastidas
Women, gender and irrigation 1
Women and irrigation in Latin America 2
Introduction to the Area 3
Type of agriculture 3
Irrigation in the area 4
Water User Associations 4
The Site 6
Who are the users and what are the different water uses 8
Gender division of labor 11
Women's involvement in irrigated agriculture 13
Household composition and life stage 15
Women's previous urban or rural background 19
Participation of women in the water user association 19
Literature Cited 23
Annex 1 26
Annex 2 27
In the past decades research findings have made governments and international and local agencies
realize the important role women play in water management. However, there is still a lack of research
on specific roles, tasks and functions women may have in irrigated agriculture, especially in Latin
America. By considering women as an additional heterogeneous group among the different water
user groups, this study seeks to understand what factors influence the involvement of mestizo women
in irrigated agriculture in two private irrigation canals in the province of Carchi, Ecuador. After an
introduction to the area of study, this report describes who are the users, what are their needs and
what are the different water uses of the two irrigation systems. Then, the degree of women's
involvement in irrigated agriculture and decision making is defined. Finally, factors that limit
women's involvement in irrigated agriculture and their participation in water user associations are
identified. A typology based on household life stage and household composition is used to explain
women's involvement in irrigated agriculture. User's relation to the resource and women's previous
rural/urban background are analyzed for the different household types. It was found that women's
participation in agriculture is higher in female headed households. In households where the couple
still has small children, women's participation in agriculture is limited by conflicting family
obligations. In households were an old couple is living alone, women were too old or too sick to
participate as they used to in agricultural activities. Finally, in mature households where the couple
has no small children, women prefer to engage in other activities for which they can control their own
income. It was also found that women\with a rural background are more likely to participate in
agricultural activities than women with previous urban background The study suggests that only by
taking a closer look at the intra-household dynamics that affect women in each of the different types
of households, can we properly explain women's involvement in irrigated agriculture.
Gender Issues and Women's Participation
in Irrigated Agriculture:
the Case of Two Private Irrigation Canals in Carchi, Ecuadort
Elena P. Bastids2
Women, gender and irrigation
In the past decades there has been an increased recognition of the importance that women play in
food production and in the provision of water for domestic use (Roda, 1991; Davidson, 1993;
Cleaver and Jobes, 1996). It has been estimated that women are responsible for more than half of
the food produced in developing countries. Research findings have also made governments and
international and local agencies realize the important role women play in water management (Davis,
1996; Johnson and Krogman, 1993). However, there is still a lack of research on specific roles, tasks
and functions women may have in irrigated agriculture, especially in Latin America.
Most of the evidence from irrigation development experiences comes from African and Asian
countries. One of the common assumptions made regarding farmers and therefore irrigators is that
they are predominantly male, which leads to the assumption that farm household resources and labor
are effectively controlled and allocated by male household heads. Research in African (Carney, 1988;
Jones, 1986; Zwarteveen, 1997) and Asian (Hart, 1992; Zwarteveen, 1996) systems has focused on
verifying this assumption, which has guided irrigation policies, planning and design. These studies
havesshown that failure to recognize gender negatively affects agricultural productivity of
irrigated crops, and that women's lack of independent access to and control of land and water
threatens household food security. Although these studies provide valuable information and
examples, we can not expect that the recommendations and lessons learned from them would be
directly applicable in the Latin American context.
This study seeks to improve understanding of what factors influence the involvement of mestizo
women in irrigated agriculture in two irrigation canals in the province of Carchi, Ecuador. For this
purpose, women are considered an additional heterogeneous group among the different water user
groups. As an heterogeneous group it is expected to find that their involvement in irrigated
agriculture as well as their needs and responsibilities will vary as these are influenced by different
IFunding for this study was provided by IIML The author also wish to thank the collaboration of Ing. Jorge
Sotomayor, Ing. Ramiro Mera, Dr. Carlos Garc6s and Dr. Wim Kloezen from IIM Dr. Susan Poats and Ivette Vallejo from
FLACSO; and, Dr. Oswaldo Paladines, Ing. Fabian Castillo and Antonio Ibarra from CONDESAN.
2 Ph. D. student, Food and Resource Economics Department, University of Florida, Gainesville FL.
social variables. A typology based on household life stage and household composition is used to
explain women's involvement in irrigated agriculture. User's relation to the resource and women's
previous rural or urban background are analyzed for the different household types.
The objectives of this study are to first, determine who are the users, what are their needs with
respect to the resource and what are the different water uses from Garrapatal and El Tambo irrigation
systems. Second, determine the degree ofwomen's involvement in irrigated agriculture and decision
making. And finally, identify what factors limit women's involvement in irrigated agriculture and their
participation in water user associations.
Women and irrigation in Latin America
In contrast to African countries, where it is estimated that women farmers raise as much as 80 percent
ofthe crops, Latin American farming systems were first classified byBoserup (1970) as male farming
systems. The underlying argument for this classification was that in systems characterized by settled
farming and use of the plough, she found that usually men do more work than women. This
conclusion was later challenged by Deere and Leon de Leal (1982), who analyzed material from
Andean regions of South America with respect to women and their productive activities. In this study
they concluded that the term family farming system would be more appropriate than male farming
system to classify these systems. They found that women do in fact participate in agricultural
activities, even if men do the majority of field work.
Ideology, which usually emerges out of religious and other cultural beliefs, is crucial in determining
male and female roles in society. In Latin America the predominance and influence of the Hispanic
colonial values and the Catholic Church have shaped male and female roles in mestizo communities,
limiting women to the domestic or reproductive sphere (Brydon and Chant, 1989). Despite this fact,
research done in Ecuador and Peru shows that the involvement of women in agricultural production
and irrigation activities is higher than generally assumed.
A study done by Villalobos et al. (1993) in the community ofCamiraya Molino inPuno, Peru, reports
that in most cases, women are more involved in the management and use of water for irrigation
purposes than men. Participation of women is as much as participation of men even in the
maintenance, cleaning and construction ofthe irrigation systems. One of the reasons explaining these
findings was attributed to the increase of male migration to the cities, leaving women in charge of
production activities. The same study showed that although women's involvement in agriculture and
irrigation activities was high, women's participation in water user organization meetings was low in
comparison to men. Similar results were found by Jacome and Krol (1994) in the mestizo
communities of Guano, Ecuador. In these communities, although men are mainly the ones in charge
of production activities, participation of women in agriculture and irrigation is high due to the
seasonal migration of men to the cities. Because of the difficult economic situation, men migrate to
the nearby cities to work as drivers or construction workers to supplement household income. Only
the old men and farmers who have enough land stay to work in agriculture. In both studies the
authors found women's involvement in irrigated agriculture varied according to household
composition driven by the out migration of men. According to Lynch (1991), female participation
in construction and maintenance of irrigation systems varies widely in the Andes. She found that in
Cajamarca, Peru women worked only for short periods on small jobs, while in Puno, Peru, more than
half of some work crews were women.
Introduction to the Area
Type of agriculture
Agriculture represents the most important sector of Ecuador's economy. It contributes up to
approximately 17% of total GDP and up to 40% of total employment of the Ecuadorian labor force.
Irrigated agriculture represents 27% of the total area under cultivation. Eighty percent of this
irrigated land corresponds to irrigation systems which are managed by private water user associations
located mainly in the Andes (Whitaker, 1990).
The area of study is part of the El Angel River water use area, which is part of the Mira River
hydrological system, one of the largest watersheds in Ecuador. It is located in the northern part of
the country in the province of Carchi, near the border with Colombia (See Annex 1). Its strategic
location has a direct impact on agriculture, forestry and consumption centers in Ecuador and
Colombia. The sub-cuenca' ofEl Angel River begins in the high paramo of the "El Angel Ecological
Reserve". From this point numerous streams form "El Angel" River and eleven different irrigation
canals which provide water for agriculture. These irrigation canals are managed by private water user
(associations (Nufiez, 1996).
This system of canals and El Angel River cross through three distinct agroecological zones in their
trajectory toward the Mira River. In the upper zone (above 2400 masl) agricultural production is
characterized by livestock, basic grain cereals (wheat and barley) and potatoes (Vallejo, 1997; Arce
et al.,1996). The middle zone (2000 to 2400 masl) is warmer and drier and most agricultural
production is dependent on irrigation. Maize, wheat and barley are the most common cereals,
horticultural crops, especially beans, and gardens with fruits (mainly avocados) tend to predominate
over livestock. In the lower zone (1700 to 2000 masl) sugar cane and horticultural crops are the main
agricultural products (Vallejo, 1997).
Irrigation in the area
Most of the private canals in this area, as well as the other irrigation systems found in the Ecuadorian
highlands, have a long history. According to Le Goulven et al. (1989), irrigation in the Andean areas
3 The term cuenca is used in this report to refer to basin of a river or watershed.
was known long before the arrival of the Spaniards (1530) and perhaps before the arrival of the Incas
from Peru (about 1470). Most of the existing networks were built between the 17" and 18 h
centuries, when the big land owners were able to make the native labor force dig and maintain canals
that were regularly destroyed by bad weather, overflows, and earthquakes.
In the 19" and 20' centuries, especially in the area of Carchi, land was gradually partitioned due to
social movements, thus producing changes in the use of water. On the one hand the largest
haciendas were divided among the descendants, which created conflicts in water partition. These
conflicts were settled by the construction of new nearby canals. On the other hand the
huasipungueros4 claimed their water rights which were justified by their crucial participation in
construction and maintenance of the water system (Le Goulven et al., 1989).
Although the process of land partitioning and distribution had already started in Carchi, the Agrarian
reform of 1960-1970 reinforced this movement. In 1966 the National Water Resource Institute
(INERHI) was created. Its main purpose was to deal with the conflicts that arose between irrigation
network owners and users. The authority of this institute was strengthened when the water resources
were nationalized in 1972. INERHI was the institute responsible to check and grant water
concessions. Therefore, water users had to declare their primitive water rights in order to be
legalized (Whitaker, 1990). In 1994, as a result of the modernization policies in the country, the
responsibilities ofINERHI were taken over by the"ConsejoNacional de Recursos Hidricos (CNRH)"
and the "Corporaciones Regionales de Desarrollo" (Regional Development Corporations) one of
which is CORSINOR (Regional Corporation for the North Sierra) which is in charge of managing
water resources of the northern highlands (Sotomayor, 1996).
Water User Associations
Construction, maintenance and management of private irrigation systems and irrigated areas are the
responsibilities of the users and their organizations: "Juntas de Aguas". The "Juntas de Aguas" or
water user associations are formed by groups of farmers who have been granted legal rights to use
the water of private canals. The associations' board are formed by a president, vice-president,
treasurer and secretary who are elected every year. The associations have regular meetings during
the year to plan for maintenance and management of the canals, and to solve conflicts between users
or other types of problem related to the irrigation system. When water from the same canal feeds
several distant areas, farmers organize in several "sub-juntas" to better deal with maintenance and
management. The presidents of each sub-cuenca form the board of the water user association for the
4Huasipungueros are the peasants that worked in the big haciendas. The tenant would give the huasipunguero and
his family a plot of 2 or 3 hectares of land (sometimes more) to sustain themselves. In exchange the huasipunguero had to
work 4 or 5 days of the week in the haciendas. In some cases they could use a yoke of oxen to plough their fields and had
water turns during the weekends.
Maintenance work of the irrigation systems is a challenge because of the infrastructure of the canals.
The old facilities consist of very winding earth canals, dug on the mountain slopes, which can often
disappear into long tunnels and can carry flows of about 500 1/sec. The water intakes are rustic
(water diverted with stones), and therefore unstable. All along the flow, the canals cut across each
other and become entangled, delivering water according to the needs by means of rudimentary
dividers. Generally, gravity irrigation techniques are applied as they are well adapted to the area's
topography (Le Goulven et al., 1989).
Two private canals, Garrapatal and El Tambo, were selected to be studied in detail among the eleven
irrigation systems. Selection of these canals was based on the representativeness of the two systems
in terms of infrastructure, agricultural patterns and organizational structure. Table 1 summarizes the
characteristics of these two systems.
Table 1. Characteristics and performance indicators of El Tambo and Garrapatal canals.
Characteristics Garrapatal El Tambo
Elevation at water intake (masl) 2,665 3,200
Length of canal (km) 10.77 26.10
Farm size (ha) 2.8 5.8
Irrigated area (ha) 497 416
No. of irrigated areas 8 6
Production (beans) (tha) 1 1.15
Gross margin per year ($/ha)5 1,292 1,508
Gross martin per unit of water (S/mL 0.16 0.32
Source: Sotomayor et al., 1997
Garrapatal takes water from El Angel River at an altitude of 2,665 masl (corresponding to the upper
zone of the sub-cuenca) and in its course it delivers water to 8 different irrigation areas in the middle
zone ofthe sub-cuenca (La Cocha, GrandezaNacional, SanNicolas, LaProvidencia, Loma Seca, San
Marcos, Playa Rica and Uyama). Users from these irrigation areas are organized in 11 sub-juntas;
the presidents of these form the water user association for the main canal.
5 The average exchange rate for 1996 was $ 1 US dollar = S/. 3,210
Water intake for El Tambo canal is located at an altitude of 3,200 masl. In its course the canal crosses
the middle zone but it delivers most of the water to irrigation areas located in the lower part of the
sub-cuenca (San Pablo de la Cangahua, San Francisco, Torrealba, Potrero Grande and El Tambito).
Most of the users who benefit from this canal live in the community of El Tambo, and in contrast to
Garrapatal the organization is centered in one water user association (See Annex 2).
Average crop production for El Tambo (1.15 t/ha) and Garrapatal (1 t/ha) has been standardized
taking beans as the base crop. The average gross value of production per hectare is higher in El
Tambo than Garrapatal since in El Tambo anis is one of the principal crops and has a better sale price
than beans. El Tambo also has a better gross value of production per m3 of water since water
supplied for the area is lower than for Garrapatal.
Table 2 shows the production patterns for summer and winter crops. In both systems the main crop
is beans. In Garrapatal beans and maize account for approximately 74% of the area under cultivation
while in El Tambo beans and anis cover 79% of the area under cultivation.
Table 2. Crop pattern for Garrapatal and El Tambo irrigation systems, summer 1996 and
Summer 1996* Winter 1996-97b
Crop Garrapatal El Tambo Garrapatal El Tambo
ha % h % ha %0 ha %- -
Beans 183 39 162 47 209 40 308 63
Maize 157 34 41 12 186 35 18 4
Anis 0 0 93 27 11 2 105 21
Tomato 34 7 0 0 37 7 0 0
Wheat 11 2 12 4 11 2 8 2
Onions 0 0 4 1 30 6 20 4
Others 81 18 32 9 43 8 29 6
Total 466 100 344 100 527 100 488 100
SSummer/Dry season lasted 11 weeks b Winter/Wet season lasted 15 weeks
Source: Sotomayor (1997)
Water allocation. In both canals, as well as in most of the other irrigation systems in the area, water
is allocated and distributed in terms of water concessions and rotation schedules which were
established when the associations were first formed during the 1970s. At this time, concessions and
turns were approved by the Water Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture and supervised by
technicians of the ex-INERHI. The criterion used to establish the water turns is based on the amount
of water supply (concessions) for each branch, time and irrigated area. In some cases farmers receive
12 hours of water per hectare every 15 days, while in other areas turns correspond to 6 or 7 hours
of water per hectare every 7 days. In any case, water turns are based on theoretical concessions that
rarely correspond to actual water supplied. To illustrate this point results from a study conducted
by IIMI in the two canals (Sotomayor et al.,1997) are used to describe the area in terms of the
concessions, actual water supplied and relative water supply for the different irrigation areas of the
two canals (Tables 3 and 4).
During the summer of 1996, irrigated areas of Garrapatal received 40% more water than what is
established in its concession. The only exceptions were the areas of San Nicolas and Loma Seca.
El Tambo, presents the opposite situation. Overall, the canal only receives approximately 57% of its
concession. The only area that receives at least the same volume as the concession is Potrero Grande.
For the winter season the same pattern is observed (Table 4). Overall water supplied in Garrapatal
is $ greater than the theoretical concession (322 I/s vs 244 /s) while El Tambo receives much less
(118 l/s.vs 227 Vs).
In terms of actual water supplied, for the summer season the amount of water supplied per unit of
land for Garrapatal (487 mm) was almost twice the amount of water supplied for El Tambo (249
mm). We can also point out from Table 3 that users near the tail of the canal received less water than
users in the upper zone of the canals. In Garrapatal the area of La Cocha received 487 mm, while
San Marcos, Playa Rica and Uyama received 298 mm. Something similar occurs in El Tambo where
the lower zone of El Tambito received an equivalent of only 20% of the water supplied in the upper
area of San Pablo de la Cangahua.
A similar situation can be observed for the winter season (Table 4). Although this time the volumes
received in Garrapatal are even greater (1588 mm). Notice that the volumes received in the lower
areas are greater than the ones in the upper zones. This is explained by the fact that during the winter
season farmers in the upper irrigation areas do not use all the water for irrigation since precipitation
is enough for agricultural production, letting the water flow to the lower areas.
One of the indicators used by Sotomayor et al.(1997) to evaluate the performance of the systems is
the Relative Water Supply (RWS)6. According to the RWS values shown in Table 3, farmers in the
upper areas of Garrapatal are able to satisfy crop water requirements. Values grater than 1.5 allow
a 50% water loss between the water outlet of the corresponding area and farmers' fields. Depending
on the distance between the water outlet and the farmer's field it is estimated that a RWS value of
1.3 should be sufficient to cover crop requirements (ET). Table 3 shows that in the lower areas of
Garrapatal as well as in all the areas ofEl Tambo the irrigation water supplied and the rainfall are not
enough to meet with crop requirements during the summer season. For the winter season the
6 RWS is define as: (Total water supply (Irrigation + Total Precipitation)) / Crop Requirement (ET). Values near 1
correspond to fields where strict water crop requirement has been supplied with no water loss in the process. Values less than
1 imply water crop requirements has not been met And values greater than 1 are associated with abundance of the water
irrigated areas in Garrapatal were able to meet water demand but the lower areas of El Tambo did
not receive enough water to meet the demand (Table 4).
Table 3. Concessions, Actual Water Supply and Relative Water Supply (RWS) for Garrapatal
and El Tambo canals, summer 1996.
Concesaon Ti4gatinn watpr apply y Rainfall (ET) Crop RWS
A B C D E C+D/E
(aranafoel nal IV I/a mm mm mm
Entire Canal 244 341 487 283 482 1.6
LaCocha 42 64 487 283 405 1.9
GrandezaNacional 21 26 384 241 412 1.6
SanNicolas 46 30 249 241 488 1.0
LaProvidencia 71 72 382 241 466 1.3
Loma Sea 20 13 320 241 631 0.9
San Marcos Playa Rica, Uyama 44 45 298 241 619 0.9
FV Tarhn rannl
Entire Canal 227 129 249 283 537 1.0
San Pablo de la Cangahua 12 9 196 283 371 1.3
San Francisco 24 10 158 241 542 0.8
Torrealba 43 20 193 241 543 0.8
Potrero Grande 20 24 232 241 575 0.8
1iTamhito 86 _9 43 _41 577 A05
Source: Sotomayor et al. 1997
Table 4. Concessions, irrigation water supply and Relative Water Supply (RWS) for
Garrapatal and El Tambo canals, winter 1996-1997.
Concession Trriegfnn watV pply Rainfall (ET) Crop RWS
A B C D E C4ID/E
Garrapnal canal 1/VsVs mm mum mm
Entire Canal 244 322 591 695 612 2.1
SanNicolas 46 61 668 304 572 1.7
LaProvidencia 71 236 1588 304 562 3.4
Loma Seca 20 49 1574 304 732 2.6
SanMarcos. PlaYaRica Uvamna 44 83 713 304 705 1.4
El Tambo canal
Entire Canal 227 118 235 695 563 1.7
San Pablo de la Cangahua 12 13 338 695 548 1.9
San Francisco 24 13 390 695 689 1.6
Torrealba 43 37 342 304 546 1.2
Potrero Grande 20 36 388 304 563 1.2
FI Tam.ito 86 10 60_ 304 590 0n6
Source: Sotomayor et al., 1997
Data for this study were collected during two summer field visits (June-August of 1996 and May -
August of 1997). In order to achieve the proposed objectives, a combination of qualitative and
quantitative methods and tools were used to gather information. During the first visit, participatory
methods such as oral histories, focus groups, and gender analysis tools (Feldstein and Poats, 1993)
were used to obtain qualitative information. Mapping and stakeholder analysis were also used to
identify who were the different users of the systems and what were their primary needs. Based on
this information four household types were identified according to family life stage and household
During the second visit, household interviews were used to obtain quantitative information. Case
studies were used to verify and study in more detail different household types. Household interviews
were based on a random sample taken from the rosters of the two water users associations. For
Garrapatal, three sub-samples were taken corresponding to farmers in the head, middle and tail of the
canal. In the case ofEl Tambo a sub-sample was taken corresponding to the major irrigation area.
A total of 60 interviews were conducted, 15 from each sub-sample. After the interviews were
completed, focus groups were used to clarify and validate information from the interviews.
For the purpose of this study, household is defined as a residential unit whose members share
domestic functions and activities- a group of people who "eat out of the same pot" or who "share the
same bowl" (Brydom and Chant, 1989). It is recognized that although membership of a household
implies at least a minimal degree of interaction with others in the unit, it cannot be assumed that such
interaction involves equality or even cooperation among individuals. According to Kabeer (1985)
it is common to find significant disparities in terms of the inputs, benefits and activities of various
household members, which will be influenced by variables such as age and gender. Additionally we
should not expect that because there is a "norm" for household form there will be household
homogeneity within a particular area. One of the factors that prevents this is the household's life
Life stage can be defined as the overall size, age, and composition of a household. The concept of
different life stages for individual households should not imply that household development follows
a predetermined pattern; that is, although many households pass through similar life stages, not every
household will originate identical life stages (Murray, 1987; Kabeer, 1985). Analyzing the factors
women confront in the different types of household gives a better understanding of how gender roles
and responsibilities are shaped within the household. It also helps explain variations in gender
division of labor and how that affects participation of women in agricultural activities as well as their
involvement in decision making.
Who are the users and what are the different water uses
This section, presents an analysis of how the relation of the user to the resource determines who has
control over or is more likely to have access to water from the irrigation canals. Through
participatory mapping points where water was being used along the canals were located. People
were grouped into two broad categories according to their relation to the resource: 1) Direct users
or those who use water for crop production (irrigation), and 2) Indirect users or those who use water
for activities other than irrigation (Table 5).
Table 5. Uses and Users of water from Garrapatal and El Tambo canals.
Relation to the resource Uses Users
field owners (men and women)
Direct Users Irrigation ( y
share croppers (mainly men)
leasers (men and women)
paid workers (men and women)
washing clothes women
Indirect Users bathing men, women, children
home consumption women, men and children
(drinking, cleaning, etc)
watering animals mainly women and children but also men
Direct users. This group includes oenstituted-by farmers who have been granted legal rights and
concessions to use water from the canals for irrigation. As mentioned earlier, land in the area of the
study has been owned by a few families in the form of big haciendas. With pressure from social
movements and the Agrarian reform of the 1960s and 1970s, part of the land was partitioned and sold
to groups of farmers, while other parts were given to the huasipungueros in return for their work.
Before the water law of 19727, land and water rights were acquired independently of one another.
This independent acquisition is how some farmers in the upper zone of the watershed (where rainfed
agriculture predominates) bought land s without acquiring water concessions. In the same way, some
7 The water law of 1972 states that water rights are granted to the owners of land by just showing the proper land
titles. Concessions for the use of water are assigned proportionally to the amount of land owned by the farmer.
8 In the case of the huasipungueros, land was given without the water rights.
farmers in the lower valleys bought water rights without having to buy more land than they already
owned. In recent years, changes in weather pattern and population pressure are starting to generate
conflicts among the communities in the upper zone (who have recently felt the need for irrigation)
and communities in the lower valleys (who have always benefitted from this resource). In a focus
group, one of the farmers from the upper zone explained the view of fellow farmers:
"We think that water rights and concessions have to be redistributed. When land was
partitioned, our ancestors didn fightt to get water for irrigation because they didn 't need
it. With the rains they had enough waterfor agriculture. Now the climate has changed, we
can no longer predict when it will rain. Agriculture becomes a riskier business every year.
....It's not fair that farmers in the lower valleys use all the water from the canals."
On the one hand, farmers in the upper zone want to benefit from the water of these canals. On the
other hand, farmers who already have water concessions indicated that the amount of water is not
enough for the production of crops, especially during the dry season (June, July and August).
Farmers complained that during this period water stealing increases. It is common to find water being
diverted to fields of farmers who do not have water concessions. Another problem is that farmers
who live along the canals do not leave the established distance (4 meters) between the canals and their
fields. In this way they use the seepage of the soil near the canals to grow their crops but at the same
time, the walls of the canals are being damaged.
Direct users can be further classified as field owners, share croppers, leasers and paid workers. These
categories are not exclusive of each other. Household members can fall in one or all of these
categories depending on their household livelihood strategies.
Field owners. Included in this category are huasipungueros or their descendants, farmers that
originally bought land from the owners of the haciendas and farmers that came from other towns and
bought land in later years. Farmers in this group form the water user association and have the
responsibilities of construction, maintenance and management of the irrigation systems.
Some of the wealthier farmers in this group have moved with their families to live in the cities. These
farmers either put their land on lease or engage in agriculture with share croppers. Usually they visit
their properties on weekends. Since the whole family lives in the city, wives are not involved in
agriculture; men are the ones managing agricultural activities.
Share croppers and leasers. Farmers who do not have enough land for agricultural purposes but
have the necessary resources engage in share cropping or lease land from the owners. In the case of
the share croppers, there are several types of arrangements that work according to specific situations.
Generally the owner puts up the land, pays for land preparation and half the costs of pest control.
In exchange the sharecropper puts up labor, pays for half the cost of pest control and all the other
necessary inputs. Each farmer gets half the harvested product.
Paid workers. For farmers who do not have enough land, or who do not have enough resources to
get involved in agriculture, wage labor represents an important livelihood strategy. Men and women
are hired to work in the fields. Women's work is preferred at times of planting and harvesting
because they do a better job in these activities and they are paid less. While men were being paid
US $2.50 per day of work, women were hired for US $2.00. The difference in wage rate, according
to the farmers, is because the type of work women do is not as heavy as men's work.
Indirect users. The second group includes of the legal users and also people living along these
canals. People use this water for home consumption,9 bathing and washing clothes because they
either do not have access to tap water or the systems do not work appropriately. One of the women
"This is the third time during this week that I have come to the canal to get water for the
house. Although we have the installations for tap water, the system never works. Some
people say that it's because the tanks that collect the water are being repaired but this
happens all the time... so we are forced to use this waterfor everything. I also come to wash
clothes here and sometimes my children come with me to take baths in the canal ..."
One of the main problems for these users is water quality. In the area, canals and rivers are often
used to get rid of waste, even though everybody is aware of the uses of water from the canals. In the
case of El Angel River, most of the waste from the city of El Angel (6,000 people) goes to the river,
including the city hospital's waste. About this situation one of the users comments:
".. We know waste from the different communities gets thrown into the canal. We have even
found dead animals in it. We know the water is contaminated but what can we do? We
can't afford boiling the water before using it, it consumes too much firewood or gas."
Those most affected by this situation are small children. According to the nurses who work in the
local health dispensary, the indices of diseases caused by parasites are high. They attribute this
problem to the poor sanitary situations and water quality. The need for clean water is critical for
women in this group since it is their task to provide water for the household and to take care of the
It is the responsibility of the municipalities and local governments to provide clean water to
communities and small towns. But the reality is that local governments will only take action to solve
the problems if there is a group of people well organized to exert political pressure. Since petitions
backed by an organization stand a better chance of being heard by local authorities, water user
associations are crucial in order to solve problems of this nature. In one case a sub-cuenca of the
Garrapatal canal, a group of 42 farmers, persuaded the board of the water association to lobby for
them to get tap water from the municipal authorities.
Use of the water for these purposes is legally protected by the water law of 1972.
Gender division of labor
Needs, tasks and responsibilities for the groups described above are not only influenced by the users'
relations to the resource but also by ideological determinants. Ideology emerges out of religious and
other cultural beliefs which delimit male and female behavior. The following is a picture of what are
commonly referred to as male and female activities, tasks and responsibilities, as defined by the
mestizo culture. Although boundaries between productive and reproductive spheres are not always
clear, they are defined for the purpose of our analysis as the following:
Productive activities are those which generate income. Also included in this category are activities
related to subsistence farming. Although subsistence farming is essentially production for use, it
displays similarities to income generating agricultural activities and in times of surplus it may become
production for exchange.
Reproductive activities involve the daily regeneration of the wage labor force through cooking,
cleaning, washing and so on. It also includes the transformation of goods and services for household
use and welfare.
Most people, when asked about the general division of labor in the area, differentiated tasks on the
basis of the physical strength required to carry them out. Male tasks were considered the ones that
require more physical strength while typical female tasks were those that require less physical
strength. A common response was:
"Here women don't work with the hoe, men do the hard work in the field, women just 'help
out'in the fields."
Table 6 shows the gender division of tasks according to the mestizo ideology. Men do most of the
crop field work, while women help in activities like planting, weeding (when it is done by hand),
harvesting, selection of seed, threshing and storing ofproduct. Sometimes women also prepare food
in the field for family members and paid workers. This is usually done in times of planting and
harvesting. The care of small animals, which include guinea pigs, chickens and pigs, is the
responsibility of women. Small animals are usually for home consumption. Women have the control
of small animals and can decide to sell them when cash is needed. Men and women are responsible
for the care of livestock; they both contribute their work to feed, water and herd the cows while
women are usually the ones who milk the cows. When there is enough milk women sell part of
production and have the control over the cash. Reproductive activities are mainly women's
Table 6. Gender division of labor.
ACTIVITIES Women Both Men
Ag. productive activities
weeding by hand
weeding with hoe
i-.r llA i-r-- .
Despite the division of tasks described in Table 6, gender roles tend to be more complementary.
Women are often more involved in field activities than they acknowledge. A group of 21 women was
asked explicitly about their participation in field activities which are considered mainly male activities.
Results showed that almost half of the women (47%) also "work with the hoe" when they are
working in the fields, 41% irrigate and 23% fumigate.
Women's involvement in irrigated agriculture
The degree of women's involvement in irrigated agriculture was measured in two ways. First, by
the degree of women's participation in agricultural production activities and second, by the degree
of women's involvement in decision making regarding benefits derived from crop production
activities. Responses on women's participation in field crop activities fell into three categories
No participation. Almost 20% of the women in the sample fell into this category.
These are women who do not work in the fields. They participate in production
activities indirectly, for example by preparing food for paid workers.
Women who "help out". In this group we find women who participate in field
activities mainly during peak seasons, when labor is scare and extra help is needed
from all members of the family (for example, planting and harvesting seasons). Sixty
percent of the women fell in this group.
Full participation. Some women participate in field production activities almost
every day. Twenty percent of the women in the sample mentioned they work in the
fields after finishing with household chores.
Fig. 1. Women's participation in field crop activities and decision making.
Participation in field crop activities Particpation In decision making
Help o 14%
n 57 n 57
Women's involvement in decision making included decisions regarding benefits obtained from
irrigated agriculture (how much of the crop should be sold and how much should be allocated for
home consumption, how the money obtained from the sale of crops should be spent, etc.).
Responses also fell also into three groups (Figure 1).
Never. Fourteen percent of the women reported that they were never consulted by
their husbands regarding decisions related to agricultural benefits. Their husbands
controlled agricultural production and the benefits derived from it.
Sometimes. The women in this group mentioned that in some cases they were
consulted by their husbands. Twenty six percent of the women fell in this group.
Always. More than half (60%) of the women in this group reported that they share
decision making with their husband.
It was found that there is a positive relationship between women's participation in agricultural
activities and their involvement in decision making. Women who participate more in agricultural
activities tend to have a bigger influence on decision making. The Chi -Square test showed
differences among the groups to be statistically significant (p=0.004) (Figure 2).
Fig. 2. Women's participation in decision making categorized by participation
S 60 E0 Never
-o d" U sometimes
No Help Full
Participation In field crop activities n = 57
Household composition and life stage
Factors influencing women's participation in agricultural activities varied according to four different
types of household. Households were characterized in terms of life stage and household
composition10. Table 7 summarizes the characteristics of the different types of household.
* Type 1: Households with young couples with at least some children less than 14 years old"
* Type 2: Mature couples with no sons and daughters less than age 14
* Type 3: Households with old couples
* Type 4: Female headed households
Table 7. Characteristics of the four types of household.
households type 1 type 2 type 3 type 4
Average age for husband / wife 57/52 47/41 60/57 70/65 -/54
Average number of household members 3.8 6 4 2.6 2.5
Average number of hectares 3.46 2.77 4.75 3.35n 3
Household type (%0) 100 40 27 23 10
Type 1: Households with young couples with at least some children less than 14years old The
majority of the households in the sample fell into this group (40%). The ages of husband and wife
ranged between 31 and 63 for men and between 22 and 57 for women, with means of 47 and 41
respectively. This category is made up of young families with small children and families in which
mature couples still have sons and daughters younger than 14 years old. The number of household
members varied between 3 and 10; 59% of the cases have 6 or more members.
Women in this group spend most of their time in reproductive activities like taking care of the
children, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and productive activities which include the care of small
animals. This limits women's opportunities to work far from the house. In general, agricultural plots
to Among the 60 households interviewed 3 cases were found in which the male head was a widower and had not
remarried. In these cases a female member of the household had assumed the household chores and responsibilities.
1 The criterion for selecting the age of 14 to differentiate between the two groups was labor availability. At the age
of 14 approximately, sons and daughters work as adults in the fields.
12 Without the 2 outliers, average number of hectares drops to 1.9 ha.
are not in the same plot as the house, making it difficult for women to be involved in field activities.
In/o of the cases women in this category participate in agricultural activities mostly during peak
seasons, when labor is scarce and their husbands need more help in the fields, like in planting and
harvesting seasons (Figure 3). In 9% of the cases, where women fully participate in field activities,
a female member of the household (older daughter or grandmother) helps with household chores and
reproductive activities. In terms of agricultural decision making in only 13% of the cases women are
not consulted at all about decisions.
Some of the women (41 %) in this group engage in activities other than agriculture. These are jobs
they can do in their house and between household chores, including: weaving, sewing, or managing
a small tienda (store). Among the three activities mentioned, the most popular is weaving.
Merchants from Otavalo contract women to make wool sweaters. Otavalo is a small city where arts
and crafts from the Andes are sold to tourists. The contractor provides the wool and other materials
needed and comes back every 15 days to pick up the finished sweaters. They pay US $3.75 per
finished sweater. These types of activities give women the opportunity to earn some extra cash.
Women have control over this cash as well as the cash obtained from selling small animals.
Type 2: Couples with all sons and daughters 14years old and over. Households in this category
include mature couples with all children over 13 years old. Average age for husbands is 60 years and
57 years for wives. One fourth of the households fell in this category. The number of household
members ranges between 3 and 8 with 82% of households with 5 or fewer members. In 12% of the
households of the study, young single mothers were living with their parents. The majority of those
cases fell in this category (57%).
In this group we find the highest percentage of women who do not participate in field crop activities
(27%) (Figure 3). Sixty seven percent help out and only 7 % have full participation. Sons of the
couple usually help with crop productive activities. This gives women the opportunity to engage in
other activities to earn some cash. Sixty three percent of the women engage in activities including
hired labor, weaving, managing a small store, sewing, working as a teacher and others. In terms of
decision making regarding agricultural activities, one third of the women in the group are not
consulted by their husbands, the highest percent of no participation among the 4 groups.
Type 3: The old couples. Twenty three percent of the sample corresponded to this type of
household. These are households where the couple has finished with their responsibilities of raising
children. In 57 % of these households the old couple is living alone. The rest are living either with
a son or daughter, who helps support the couple, and/or grandchildren who help out with household
chores. The couples' ages ranged between 62 to 84 years with a mean of 71 for men, and between
55 to 80 years for the women, with a mean of 65 years.
Most of the couples in this group (86 %) characterized themselves as old people, who are in their last
years of life and because they are sick they can't work in the fields as hard as they used to. The
amount of land these couples own ranged between 1 and 3 ha.13 While farmers in all types of
household produced mainly for the market, farmers in this group emphasize the importance of their
plots for home consumption. Farmers in this group sometimes received help from relatives as either
cash or basic products to help with their maintenance. When there is a need for cash, men and
women work as hired labor but this is only when they are not sick. Forty four percent of men and
14% of women mentioned that occasionally they work as hired labor.
This group is mostly formed by the old huasipungueros. Work on agricultural activities is more
complementary in this group. Women's participation in field crop activities is relatively high (Figure
3). Main reasons why women do not participate in agricultural activities are because they are either
too old or too sick. Regarding decision making, all of the women in this group mention they share
decision making with their husbands
Type 4. Female headed households. This group includes households in which the male head is
away or has died, and women who have children and are not married; they are either divorced or
separated. Ten percent of the sample corresponded to this type of household. Age of women heads
of household ranged between 37 and 64 years with a mean of 54. In terms of family composition,
it was found that the number of members ranged between 3 and 5. In 5 of the 6 cases households
were in a mature household life stage; the majority of sons and daughters had either migrated or
formed their own families.
Women in this group spend most oftheir time performing and managing agricultural activities (Figure
3), in addition to reproductive activities. Although women as heads of household make all the
decisions regarding agricultural management, it was found that in no cases did women engage in
agriculture alone. They would find a male sharecropper who is either a relative or a farmer in the
community, to engage in agriculture. This situation forces women to share the agriculture production
decisions with the sharecropper. These decisions include what and how much to grow as well as
when and where to sell the product. Sharecropping arrangements vary in each situation but generally
the woman provides the land, cash for inputs and some labor (own and family), while the
sharecropper provides labor and also some cash for inputs.
One of the main reason for not engaging in crop production alone is the difficulty for a woman to
control all aspects of agricultural production alone. According to the women farmers there are
certain tasks that require the presence of a man. Although women can hire labor, they said they can
not trust paid workers to look out for their interest in the same way a sharecropper would. One of
the women explained:
.....if I get the water turn at night and I'm working alone I simply lose the water. It is
dangerous for us (women farmers) to go out in the middle of the night to irrigate, God
knows what might happen!.... Paid workers won't work at night, so Ihave to look for a male
13 Two of the farmers in this group have more than 9 hectares of land.
sharecropper. Men can irrigate at night and make sure nobody is stealing the water.
.....Also, when the canal needs to be repaired, farmers have the obligation to go and repair
the damage. We (women farmers) don't do that type of work; so we hire workers. The
problem with paid workers is that if the owner is notpresent they don't do a good job."
Fig. 3 Women's participation in field crop activities by household type.
Type 1 Type 2
Help out 9% Help out7%
Type 3 Type 4
n=13 67% n=6
Women's previous urban or rural background
In trying to understand what makes a woman more likely to participate in field activities, it was found
that women who had been raised and had lived on small farms were more likely to participate in field
crop production activities.
"We all have to help in agriculture, men and women. It is a lotofworkso we both go to the
field; while he is forming the beds Iam planting, when he is working with the hoe I'm taking
out the weeds with my hands...... You need two people to irrigate so Ihelp him with that too.
I have always helped in the field, even before getting married."
In contrast women who have had a previous urban experience, whether they had been raised in a city,
sent to school or worked in an urban area, were less likely to participate in field activities.
"Agriculture is men's work; I prefer to work doing something else and get some money to
hire workers to help my husband in the field. "
Twenty two percent of the cases corresponded to women who have had previous urban background.
None of the women within this group fully participate in field activities: 46% do not work in the field
and 54% only help out. The Chi -Square test showed differences among the groups to be statistically
significant (p=0.015) (Figure 4).
Fig. 4. Women's participation in field crop activities by rural/urban background.
I illlliiiii lIi i
60 E No
8a Help out
Rural Urban Total n 57
Rural n 44
Urban or Rural background Urban n = 13
Participation of women in the water user associations
As mentioned before, many of the problems related to irrigation are solved directly in the fields
among farmers or inside the households. This is influenced in part by a weak organization, which has
forced male and female farmers to find informal ways to deal with their problems. According to the
statutes of the Garrapatal and El Tambo associations, members should meet every two months to
discuss problems, make decisions, and collect irrigation fees and once a year to elect new board
members. This is hardly the case in either association. In El Tambo, farmers meet less than twice a
year and the previous board members were in office for almost 8 consecutive years (1989-1996). It
seems that the only thing that will bring farmers to meetings is when the irrigation system is not
working at all and urgent action is needed. The problems that required action from the organization
were in many cases dealt with by the board members, who, according to the majority of the farmers,
were people they could trust. In Garrapatal, because the association includes 11 "sub-cuencas",
farmers are forced to meet more often. In some "sub-juntas" farmers meet every month. The "junta
general" usually meets twice a year to organize the cleaning of the main canal. Problems that arise
in the different irrigation modules are dealt with by the corresponding sub-cuenca.
Overall participation of members is low in association meetings. It is no surprise that the participation
of women is even lower. Only 9% of the women in the sample mentioned they always attend water
user association meetings (Table 8). There is no rule that prevents women from attending and
participating in the associations meetings. Either husband, wife or both are able to attend and
represent their interests in the meetings. However, attending meetings and discussing matters is
thought of as a male activity. The ideological barriers women have when they are together with men
inhibits their participation. One of the women summarizes her reasons for not participating:
"Meetings are Friday nights. At that time, after cooking for my husband and the kids, I
still have a lot ofwork around the house....There is no reason for both of us to attend the
meetings. Even iflgo to the meetings it's only to hear what the men have to say. Men are
the ones who talk and discuss. They know what to say and how to say it."
Common reasons for women's low participation in water user associations meetings:
The women don't have time.
Husbands don't like their wives going out at night.
Women don't have experience in that type of thing (managing meetings, talking in front of
*There is no need for both husband and wife to attend the meeting.
The highest participation of women is observed in female headed households where women do not
have a male representative. In contrast, 93% of the women from household type 2 with older
children never attend these meetings. In these households if the husband cannot attend the meetings
an older son will participate.
Table 8. Participation of women in Water User Association meetings.
Household types Whole
Participation in WUA meetings Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4
% % % % %
doesn't participate 47 93 69 0 60
only when husband or male family member 53 7 23 33 32
always participate 0 0 8 67 9
In terms of women's participation in board positions, it was found that there are some men and
women who think women can perform better than men in a board position when they have a higher
education. In 5 of the 11 sub-juntas in the Garrapatal canal women occupied positions of leadership,
two as presidents of the sub-juntas, the other three as secretaries. In the case of El Tambo the new
treasurer was a women. In all of these cases women had a more education than the average farmer;
all of them had finished high-school and three were school teachers.
The study suggests that only by taking a closer look at the intra-household dynamics that affect
women in each of the different types of households, can we properly explain women's involvement
in irrigated agriculture. The typology based on life stage and household composition presented in this
paper, help us understand the different factors limiting women's involvement in agricultural activities
and their participation in the water user organization. It was Found that women's participation in
agriculture is higher in female headed households which represent approximately ten percent of the
households in the area of study. Although women's lack of participation in agriculture is similar
among the other types of household typel (22%), type 2 (27%), and type 3 (23%)), reasons for not
participating varied widely. In households where the couple still has small children, women's
participation in agriculture is limited by conflicting family obligations. In households with old
couples, women were too old or too sick to participate as they used to in agricultural activities.
Finally, in mature households where the couple has no small children, women prefer to engage in
other activities for which they can control their own income. It was also found that women's urban/
rural background is a useful variable to try to understand what makes women more likely to
participate in agricultural activities.
In terms of heterogeneity of water uses and users, the study shows how men and women's control
and/or access to the resource is influenced by factors such as land tenure, wealth, location, gender
and labor relations. It was found in this study that women's participation in water user associations
is low, having less influence in decision making in the formal sphere. Although we found some
women occupied positions of leadership in the organizations, ideology plays a stronger role in terms
of their decision making power. Women try to solve their irrigation related problems through
informal ways where they have more decision making power. Therefore, the importance of analyzing
gender and other differences in agricultural production through different life stages, in order to get
a broader understanding of factors influencing irrigation is recognized.
This study focused on the mestizo communities of the middle and lower zone of the Rio El Angel
water user area, where ethnicity is not an important variable for differentiation. To have a better
understanding of the users in the whole water user area, further research should consider ethnicity
as a variable for differentiation (See Vallejo(1997)). Communities in the upper zone have indigenous
Andean influence, while in the lower zone, Negro communities predominate in the area.
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Annex 1. Location of the area of study.
Map of Ecuador
Ee. Ideso CA.C
ANA13I ou.l .
S INC.A R \1
/ / -9Lj tI \wv; "
a ram" rul
caun Be )
El Suam R .-
N- /O( ST
'5-... ~ ~
NATIONAL PARKS AND
PER Y.U 18 0 0a, P,,,al ael cuuld-
r j PERU
Anex 2. Eschematic representation of Garrapatal and El Tambo Canals.
Water Intake Bobo Riv
S Angel River
San n MFroos Sn M m ad Sn s Sn Frnco
and B Chical
Lama Seca and E Chlcal
Play Rica nd Uyama
T mb Tutepi
Annex 2a. Geographic Location of El Tambo and Garrapatal irrigation systems.
'4 s 15 *- 1n
T1f7, 1V 71
73 '74 'IS
DE MANEJO DE LA IRRIGACION (IIMI)
DE LAS ACEQUIAS CARRAPATAL Y EL TAMBO
MUaInSt CMjUdATArM. EPTAMso
I LAmC(U tVAI IACLAJCTM
JU4 C1M3 VAK*
2MA I MAUSSAIS3 2mS4ooauPoSMZT
a- '. "lI