The Resource Efficiency Paradox : A Case Study of the Guerdane Irrigation Project in Morocco
Abstract: How can we explain the paradoxical outcomes of resource efficiency? As a key pillar of worldwide sustainable development policies, the concept of resource efficiency has become increasingly important to scrutinize. The overreliance on efficiency coupled with the intention of conserving scarce resources can sometimes backfire. Understanding the intermediate process that leads to the negative, paradoxical outcome is imperative for a sustainable future, especially for societies that risks resource degradation. This study takes the explanatory route and aims to problematize the usage of efficient technology in a resource scarce developing country, namely, Morocco. It is argued that the causal mechanism which links the independent variable (drip irrigation technology) to the observed outcome (total increased resource consumption) has to do with production and consumption processes, which is theorized to be spurred by efficiency. These mechanisms have been derived from the theory of Jevons Paradox and juxtaposed with empirical findings from the Guerdane irrigation scheme, a scheme which sought to increase productivity and simultaneously reduce water scarcity. The study makes use of the case-study approach and the process-tracing method. The chosen method provides a means for establishing a timeline of events, alternative explanations, as well as providing grounds for a primary explanation for the observed outcome. The findings point to reduced labour costs and initial water savings as the empirically derived causal mechanisms. These mechanisms, spurred by the implementation of drip irrigation technology, consequently gave rise to the expansion of irrigated land which in turn increased water withdrawals and eventually resulted in a paradoxical, negative outcome where the total consumption of water resources increased. Taken together, these results deepen our understanding of the problematic usage of efficient technology when different types of social processes are not accounted for.
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