Path Dependence in Nebo Plateau: Strategic Partnerships and Rural Poverty Alleviation in South African Small-Scale Irrigation Schemes
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To address the challenges associated with under-utilised smallholder irrigation schemes located in former homeland areas in South Africa, strategic partnerships between black farmers and white, established commercial farmers have been implemented by the Limpopo Provincial Department of Agriculture since the 2000s. This article aims to explain the adoption, and then the resilience over time, of this policy instrument, despite its failure to meet its objectives. We first demonstrate that policy instruments rarely result from an objective assessment of the situation at stake, and more often simply recycle previously used policies that were designed in attempts to provide solutions to other scenarios, which may not reflect the same characteristics as the situation currently under investigation. We then argue that the resilience of the particular policy instrument called 'strategic partnership' has been ensured thanks to a mechanism of 'path dependence' that is derived from previous policy decisions. Indeed, we demonstrate how the legacy of these earlier, primary policy choices makes it difficult to re-evaluate policy decisions favourable to strategic partnerships. Building on neo-institutionalist theories (sociological, historical and rational) that emphasise continuity within public policies, it will be made clear how strategic partnerships ultimately imposed themselves as a foregone policy 'choice', despite their disappointing results.
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