Vulnerability of rural producers in Mendoza in the face of Global Environmental Change: climate, water, economy and society


This article addresses the vulnerability to phenomena associated with Global Environmental Change (GAC) of agricultural producers in the Mendoza river basin in Argentina. Vulnerability is understood as a complex phenomenon that is generated at the intersection of environmental, social and economic dimensions. From a qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with producers in the study area, the processes that affect the actors (exposures/sensitivities) and the practices (adaptations) that they develop to deal with these phenomena are reconstructed. The argument holds that hydrometeorological events act on a series of previous and long-term vulnerabilities defined by access to resources. Also shows, that resources are fundamental for the development of adaptive capacities, but finds that the “availability of resources” and the “building of capacities” are not phenomena that express linear and direct causal relationships. In other words, the mere existence of resources is not enough to promote adaptation capacities. Pointing out some gaps in the determinants of capacities, the article identifies critical factors to improve the environment of rural actors and contribute to strengthening them to face future climatic contingencies and other global events that affect their living conditions. they are not phenomena that express linear and direct causal relationships. In other words, the mere existence of resources is not enough to promote adaptation capacities. Pointing out some gaps in the determinants of capacities, the article identifies critical factors to improve the environment of rural actors and contribute to strengthening them to face future climatic contingencies and other global events that affect their living conditions. they are not phenomena that express linear and direct causal relationships. In other words, the mere existence of resources is not enough to promote adaptation capacities. Pointing out some gaps in the determinants of capacities, the article identifies critical factors to improve the environment of rural actors and contribute to strengthening them to face future climatic contingencies and other global events that affect their living conditions.

Keywords : Global environmental change; Vulnerability; exhibitions; Accommodations; capacities; Social inequalities


The paper addresses vulnerability to Global Environmental Change of rural producers of Mendoza River basin, in Argentina. Vulnerability is a complex phenomenon that is generated at the intersection of environmental, social and economic dimensions. From a qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with producers of the study area, the paper explains the processes affecting actors (exposures / sensitivities) and the practices (adaptations) they develop to address these phenomena. The main idea is that hydroclimatological events act on a number of previous, long-term vulnerabilities defined by access to resources. Also it shows that resources are critical to the development of adaptive capacities, but finds that “availability of resources” and “capacity building” are not phenomena always related by a linear and direct causality. That is, sometimes the mere existence of resources is not enough to foster adaptive capacities. Noting some capacities gaps, the article identifies critical factors that could improve rural actors’ capacities and could strengthen them to cope with future global climate events and other factors that affect their living conditions.

Keywords : Global environmental change; Vulnerability; Exposures; adaptations; capacities; Social inequalities


This study addresses the problem of vulnerability to Global Environmental Change (GAC) of rural producers in the Mendoza river basin. The CAG is a concept that aims to expand and make the concepts of Climate Change and Climate Variability more complex.

On the one hand, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conceptualized climate change as “climate change directly or indirectly attributed to human activity that alters the composition of the atmosphere and that adds to the natural variability observed over time.” comparable time periods” ( 38 ).

On the other hand, Climate Variability refers to the variations of the mean state and of other statistical characteristics (standard deviation, extreme events, etc.) of the climate on broader temporal and spatial scales than those of meteorological phenomena.

Variability may be due to natural internal processes of the climate system (internal variability) or to natural or anthropogenic external forcing variations (external variability) ( 16, 19 ).

Instead, Global Environmental Change is a concept that encompasses not only climate change processes, but also other global change processes linked to society-nature, nature-economy relationships. From this perspective, the environmental dimension integrates the ecological with the economic and social, including here also the political, institutional and cultural dimensions ( 29 ).

Within this framework, the concept of vulnerability is introduced to explain the social, economic and political conditions in which the rural producers of the basin under study find themselves.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines vulnerability as the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, the adverse effects of climate change and variability and its extremes ( 19). This general definition displays a variety of perspectives for addressing the problem. Thus, it is possible (from the sciences of the atmosphere, hydrology, dendrology, physiology, agronomy) to address vulnerability from the consequences of climate variations on ecosystems and natural resources. But also, from other disciplines such as sociology, economics, geography, among others, the vulnerability of the groups and communities that inhabit the territories affected by the CAG can be explained. This study is inscribed in this last line.

The problem developed here has been approached from different angles in the region. On the one hand, socioeconomic studies have extensively highlighted the impact of economic globalization on agriculture and the consequent “productive reconversion” ( 22, 31, 36 ).

There is also abundant bibliography that has dealt with water and natural resources as sociopolitical phenomena, from territorial studies ( 6, 7, 41 ) as well as from an exclusively political-institutional perspective ( 27 ).

On the other hand, there is also a solid scientific production on the scenarios and forecasts of Climate Change in the region ( 40 ) as well as the specific impacts of these phenomena on crops and soil ( 3, 9 ).

The impacts of global and climatic events that affect the sector are widely studied by evaluations that tend to be monodisciplinary and select some factors, ignoring the phenomena addressed by other disciplines. Thus, there is still a gap regarding how sociopolitical processes are linked to climate and environmental phenomena.

The fundamental motivation of this work resides in the need to explain hydrometeorological phenomena, not only in terms of risks, occurrence, duration, intensity and geographical scope, but also in relation to the impacts on agricultural producers, mainly conditioned by social conditions. In this niche is intended to generate a contribution. In this sense, studying the vulnerability of producers to CAG is essential, not only because of the implications of climate variability on communities, but also because of the possibility of strengthening adaptation capacities, in order to be better positioned to deal with other factors. Likewise, due to the need to prioritize efforts for research, policies and investment in the most vulnerable sectors.

The study is guided by the following questions: What are the most important exposures of productive actors to climate and water problems? How are hydrometeorological exposures articulated with other economic, social, cultural exposures, etc.? What are the strategies that are developed in these situations and what effect do they have on their situation of vulnerability? What are the preconditions that promote or limit adaptation? What are the main obstacles manifested by the factors (resources) that determine adaptive capacities?


Analyze the vulnerability to CAG of agricultural producers in the Mendoza river basin based on an analysis of exposures, sensitivities and practices that they develop to adapt and deal with these phenomena.

Likewise, it is proposed to interpret how some of the determinants of adaptive capacities that the specialized literature indicates as essential to reduce vulnerability manifest themselves in the studied area.

The article is organized in the following manner. In order to theoretically frame the approach adopted, the concept of vulnerability is developed within the framework of the CAG and the analytical definition adopted in this study.

Next, a description of the study area and the methodology used is presented. Then, the main expected impacts of climate change and variability in the region are discussed.

The results obtained are presented below, evaluating, on the one hand, the exposures and sensitivities – climatic and non-climatic – that affect producers and the practices developed to adjust and cope with these situations.

On the basis of this analysis, in the last part, we discuss how some of the determinants of adaptation capacities are manifested in the studied area, and how these constitute resources that facilitate or hinder adaptations and, consequently, vulnerability. .

Conceptual dimensions of vulnerability: exposures, sensitivities, adaptations and adaptive capacities

This study understands vulnerability from the combination of two dimensions: i) the exposures that affect the actors and ii) the degree of sensitivity of these systems to the exogenous factors that affect them. This sensitivity depends on the social conditions and the resources that the actors can access, an aspect that in turn determines the adaptability.

Figure 1 (p. 149) depicts these dimensions of vulnerability.


Figure 1. Dimensions of vulnerability.

Figure 1. Dimensions of vulnerability.

Exposures are a characteristic of climate systems and refer to the frequency and magnitude of hydroclimatological events (drought, hail, temperature extremes) that have a strong impact on productive and social systems.

In Mendoza, to the extent that without water there is no irrigation and without irrigation there is no production, uncertainty about the availability of water is one of the main obstacles to the livelihood of producers.

But, the consequences of the water and climatic crises on producers are intertwined with pre-existing and different socioeconomic stressors, related to the advance of globalization and the “non-climate” transformations of the agrarian system. For this reason, hydro-climatological events function as a multiplying effect of other non-climatic exposures ( 25 ). Thus, these processes do not affect all actors equally, not all are equally sensitive to the same factors or have the same possibilities of adapting.

In this way, sensitivity and adaptability are characteristics of the social system and depend on the social conditions and the resources that the actors can access. Adaptive capacity comprises the resources needed for adaptation that give actors flexibility to develop risk management strategies that do not increase their vulnerability ( 5, 32 ).

Thus understood, these strategies or adaptations are manifestations of adaptive capacities. And since they also depend on available resources, they are not always effective enough to reduce the vulnerability of producers ( 19 ). Sometimes they generate effects contrary to those expected, increasing vulnerability instead of reducing it. This point is not always taken into account in adaptation studies ( 19, 20) which usually hold a tacit consensus that quickly assumes: “adapting is always good”, without discussing the consequences of adaptations or the transfer of vulnerabilities that some adaptations imply. Although it is recognized that the biggest challenge is how to adapt to the lack of water and climate variability, not all adaptations lead to the same results. For this reason, it is considered essential to bear in mind the possible indirect effects of adaptations on ecosystems as well as those of some social groups on others (it is very common for this to happen with adaptations that involve building infrastructure or incorporating technology, as will be seen in the case of canal lining).

The idea that adaptations depend on resources leads to focus on the set of capitals or resources that function as determinants of adaptive capacity.

The bibliography ( 5, 18 ) indicates among the most important economic resources (monetary capital, economic means, productive resources); technology and infrastructure (in this case, they are considered together given the focus on irrigators); natural capital (availability and access to water, soil, seeds); human capital (educational levels and knowledge, experience and traditional knowledge about nature and climate); social capital (existence of social networks characterized by trust and reciprocity) and institutional capital (institutional characteristics that facilitate climate-related risk management).

The assumptions that explain the relevance of these resources in determining capacities express in very simple terms that the more limited or deficient the resources, the more vulnerable this social system will be ( 12 ) . Therefore, they express linear causal relationships between availability of resources in the social system and adaptation capacities.

As will be seen in this analysis, these relationships are not linear, but take different forms depending on the case. Furthermore, the mere existence of the resource is not enough to reduce vulnerability.

The disadvantaged situation of the most vulnerable groups puts the redistribution of resources under the magnifying glass. From this perspective, adaptation would imply “altering the context” in which hydrometeorological events occur, so that producers can better respond to changing conditions.

Description of the study area and methodology

The Mendoza river basin ( figure 2 , page 151) is located in the latitude of the central Andes.


Figure 2. Location of the Mendoza river basin.

Figure 2. Location of Mendoza’s river basin.

It shows a fragmented territorial pattern where artificial irrigation oases coexist with extensive desert territories ( 28 ). The oases concentrate in 5% of the provincial territory, 97% of the provincial population and its economic activities as indicated by the Territorial Environmental Information System (SIAT, 2013). And there is an intense use of water resources. On the other hand, in non-irrigated areas, populations focus their economic activity on extensive goat rearing, in addition to extractive activities (oil and mining).

The Mendoza river basin covers part of the departments of San Martín, Guaymallén, Las Heras, Lavalle, Luján and Maipú. These last two represent the initial irrigation zone of the Mendoza River and the territories most valued for their supply of surface water. While the middle zones (Guaymallén, Las Heras and Lavalle) receive less water and of worse quality ( 21 ).

The results of this article are based on a series of semi-structured interviews carried out during 2013 with rural producers in the Mendoza river basin.

The methodological strategy adopted was that of case study ( 37 ), which makes it possible to address the particularity and complexity of a single case.

The study carried out a theoretical, non-probabilistic sampling, where the selection of cases did not seek to achieve statistical representativeness of the universe of actors in the basin, but rather the interviewees were selected for their theoretical relevance to the research problem and for their specific characteristics for the research problem.

Theoretical sampling is done to discover categories and their properties, and to suggest interrelationships within a theory, the researcher selects cases to study based on their potential to help refine or expand concepts or theories already developed.

Different profiles of producers were considered taking into account the following variables: department where the farm is located; type of productive activity (fruit, vegetables, viticulture, mixed); farm size (small – up to 5 ha-, medium from 5.1 to 25 ha, large from 25.1-100 ha), intervals according to the 2012 National Agricultural Census (CNA) (figure 3, page 152 )


Figure 3. Sampling characteristics.

Figure 3. Characteristics of sampling.

The 41 interviews were guided by a set of open topics that inquired about the different dimensions of vulnerability: exposures (climatic and non-climatic) faced by producers; adaptation capacities translated into knowledge, practices, knowledge; and their perceptions about the future. The interviews were carried out until reaching “theoretical saturation” ( 17 ), in which new observations no longer led to additional information. In this way, it is a qualitative investigation where the sample of informants seeks to understand the complexity of the phenomenon and not obtain statistical representativeness. The material obtained in the field was classified and systematized with the Nvivo 10 qualitative data analysis software.

For the analysis of the interviews, the first step was the encoding of the transcribed audios. To do this, nodes, sub-nodes and attributes were defined (in a hierarchical way, like “trees”) for each of the vulnerability components. The coding structure corresponded to the categories of the interview questionnaires. After coding, the responses of the producers were interpreted, establishing comparisons between the different profiles of interviewees.

Climate and the impacts of change and variability in Mendoza

Mendoza’s productive model, based on oasis agriculture irrigated by melting snow in the mountains, is threatened in the context of most climate change scenarios for the region.

Scientific projections indicate a decrease in snowfall in the mountains with the consequent decrease in river flows ( 40 ).

An elevation of 150 meters from the position of the 0°C isotherm has been estimated, which would produce a decrease in the snow accumulation surface in winter, an increase in the ablation surface, and a retreat of the glaciers ( 30 ) . .

This affects the alteration of the hydrograph of the rivers, seriously increasing the water deficit typical of an arid zone. ( 30 ).

Not only would there be less water, but the peak flows would be anticipated as a result of the snowmelt period starting earlier. According to Boninsegna and Villalba (2006), “the Mendoza river presents a decrease in the order of 13%, 6 m 3 /sec less than the current average flow”.

In flat areas, studies have shown increased maximum and minimum temperatures ( 11, 40 ). High levels of solar radiation would have a direct impact on crop evapotranspiration. High temperatures would affect agriculture, not only increasing the demand for water, but also modifying crop cycles ( 11 ). The variability of temperatures is not always reflected in the mean values, but it can explain specific events such as unexpected (late) frosts for the moment of the biological cycle that cause serious damage ( 11, 34 ).

On the other hand, a change in the rainfall pattern has also been detected ( 39 ). Although there are no considerable variations in the total amount of rain fallen in a period, a change in the type of precipitation towards others of a more torrential nature is evident. These generally develop as convective storms that are often accompanied by hail ( 30 ). Despite the decrease in flows, the increase in summer rainfall is not always convenient for crops, particularly vines, since they can be affected by pests. In addition, there is no infrastructure to capture water from these extreme summer events, nor does the soil have a great absorption capacity ( 30).

In view of these observed events and expected scenarios, it remains to be interpreted how this affects and configures the vulnerabilities of rural producers in the basin.


Weather exposures and strategies : variability, extreme temperatures, hail.

The farmers’ expressions about their exposures corroborate the hydrometeorological scenarios and forecasts indicated in the previous section.

The variability of extreme temperatures is mentioned by producers as a contingency that affects them. Particularly because these oscillations occur at different times than those that traditionally occurred. It is this unexpected nature that most affects producers: “the plant has these springs that disorient it, then comes a frost and a cold that does not understand anything” (Vitícola, Grande, Luján).

Except for their occurrence at unexpected times, frost and hail are two types of historical contingencies in the basin that are not a direct effect of global change. Therefore, they violate all producers. But it is their social and material conditions that determine the proportion of sensitivity to the phenomenon.

Frosts in general are very difficult to prevent except for some precarious techniques that maintain soil moisture. But when they generate the most damage is when they occur at critical moments of crop growth.

Hail is prevented with meshes whose placement implies a high cost for producers. For this reason, they cannot always dispose of it in the totality of the cultivated land: “I have some parts that, I put the mesh… I have a few rows to defend myself and well” (Viticola, Pequeño, Lavalle).

Contracting insurance and state support to subsidize the installation of hail protection are essential but not enough: these instruments hardly recognize the physical totality of the damage and when they arrive the producer is no longer able to recover the loss of profitability. Furthermore, not all farmers can afford the fixed cost that these instruments require. The largest are then the least sensitive to hail damage because they have adequate infrastructure to prevent them and greater general ease of access to investments, credits and financial aid. In some cases they also have tracking technology, satellite monitoring or gas cannons.

Among small and medium-sized producers, hail and frost affect more than just their crops: they threaten the living conditions of families that cannot raise sufficient capital to face production losses, and therefore, the problems derived from its marketing and distribution.

The damages directly affect the economic sustainability of their productive enterprises, so for many small producers the only possible way to adapt is to resist, that is, to endure as long as possible without abandoning productive activity: “…you just have to endure …” (Grower, Pequeño, Guaymallén) because “…nature has nothing to give it…” (Grower, Pequeño, Luján). A detailed analysis of the concept of sustainability applied to viticultural production in Mendoza can be found in Abraham et al. (2014).

As will be seen later, these hydrometeorological phenomena largely condition the ways in which producers position themselves in the market, their buying and selling capacity. Although preventive measures are important, the difference in vulnerabilities does not lie so much in how they can avoid being affected by the phenomenon, but rather in their ability and conditions to overcome the losses.

Exposures and adaptations to lack of water

The lack of water is a significant phenomenon in the basin, present in the memory of every producer and is continuously updated in the difficulties they have to face every day. In addition, coinciding with the forecasts of the impact of the decrease in snowfall on river flows, the region has gone through a period of five consecutive years of water emergency (2010-2015).

The water emergency consists of a portfolio of measures implemented by the provincial government and the General Department of Irrigation after the confirmation of a severe decrease in river currents. Although it is a far-reaching policy that involves a reduction in the availability of water for all uses, it mainly affects agricultural use (irrigation). Another of the large users of water that also encounters problems due to the reduction in supply, in addition to drinking water for human consumption, is the industrial sector ( 14 ).

It should be noted that water is assigned based on a system of irrigation rights that stipulate a delivery volume and are inherent to the land. In this sense, scarcity is a problem that takes on different facets and it is possible to identify material and symbolic dimensions.

The material dimension of the scarcity is verified by the producers from a physical decrease in the quantity of available water. This is due to different phenomena.

In the oasis, the global decrease in the dammed and circulating flow through the water courses (hydrological drought) implies a considerable reduction in irrigation shifts that are insufficient to irrigate the entire cultivated area and produces a significant impact on the quality and quantity of production, which in turn makes it difficult to market the products.

The deepening of the lack of irrigation water is one of the elements that configures the critical situation of small and medium-sized producers to “overcome the crises.”

The lack of water in the oasis, in turn, affects the non-irrigated area: these lands no longer receive the little water that they could have received through runoff and this further aggravates the structural lack of irrigation (infrastructure and rights). In addition, in these areas, changes in rainfall (long meteorological droughts and torrential summer rains) affect goat producers who strictly depend on rain to feed their animals. The producers value those rainy years, when the rain helped to clean the environment and the “downpours” guaranteed that everything “revered”. Currently, the rains in the desert are characterized by being abundant but concentrated.

These material aspects of the lack of water are intertwined with the symbolic ones, that is, with the ways in which the producers interpret and give meaning to the general problem of the lack of water. The most affected producers maintain that the scarcity of irrigation water comes from the inequalities in the distribution of shifts between producers linked to the exercise of power, this makes the most powerful “keep all the water.” The general perception of the producers is that the lack of water is not a “physical” problem of “amount of available water” but of the irrigation distribution system that favors large producers, to the detriment of smaller ones. In these reports, the institutions are questioned (the General Department of Irrigation, DGI, which administers, regulates and supervises provincial water resources in a decentralized and autarchic manner, a power emanating from the Provincial Constitution of 1916, articles 186 to 196; Inspections of Cauce and tomeros, an analysis of the reciprocal links between irrigators and tomeros (6 ), as the main responsible for favoring some economic actors: “The inspector collected the water for him (…) They collect all the water, that is, every minute and they go with all the water to a farm. Maybe he has 30 hours total.” (Winegrower, Small, Lavalle); “… those of Irrigation have “kiosquito”, it is very good business to sell the well permits; the distribution of water, everything, irrigation is a taboo…, what is Irrigation is all controversial (Fruticultor, Mediano, Luján); ” …there are arrangements with water… there are people who have come from abroad and have large fields and have plenty of water…” (Horticulturist, Pequeño, Guaymallén).

In contrast to this view of small producers, the explanations for the lack of water given by large producers and businessmen hold small producers responsible for their poor irrigation practices, for their unmodern and inefficient methods. Faced with this, they contrast the state-of-the-art technologies that they use. The exaltation of the discourse of efficiency and technology in opposition to traditional knowledge is an indicator of the type of knowledge that is generally considered legitimate to solve the water problem.

For the small ones, on the other hand, it is the economic difficulties that prevent access to a more efficient type of irrigation. These differences in the explanations do not make the problem of the lack of water less real, they only warn about the social position from which the social actors interpret and give meaning to their reality. In turn, they confirm the historical unequal appropriation of water in Mendoza, which has been documented in the local bibliography ( 8 ) as a configurator of disputes over the distribution and access to natural resources.

The determining factors of differentiated water vulnerability

Although the decrease in the volume of irrigation water impacts all types of producers, certain conditions delimit the specific level of the impact of the lack of the resource. In addition to the first major difference between areas that have irrigation infrastructure and those that do not (oasis-desert), there are three other determining factors for the differences within the oases.

  1. i) The location of the farm in the basin and with respect to the water distribution channels. The lands in the upper part of the basin and those closest to the primary distribution network have a better guarantee of receiving water for the simple reason that the water travels fewer kilometers from its origin in the reservoir to the farm and the losses due to infiltration are minors. On the contrary, the lower parts of the basin and the lands that are at the end of the distribution have less guarantees of receiving water. To avoid this type of problem, the waterproofing of channels is one of the fundamental adaptations. But this depends not only on available resources, but also on the channel inspector’s ability to obtain financing for the works.

On the other hand, although the concrete lining of water distribution channels is an unquestioned adaptation to avoid water loss due to seepage, it is not usually taken into account that these seepages mean a possibility of aquifer recharge. It has been verified that, after these works, some areas of native forests have been eliminated.

  1. ii) The type of right is another determinant of differential vulnerability, but not as significant as previous studies in the basin indicate ( 29).

Although holders of definitive rights receive 20% more water than those with eventual rights, many producers with non-definitive rights acknowledge that if they did, they would probably receive more water and could increase the volume produced. But this would not improve their general economic situation because the balance between production cost and profitability would not be more positive. This data reinforces the argument of double exposures, that is, social and economic factors are as much or more determinants of vulnerability than those related to climate and water.

Other producers, on the other hand, believe that a modification in the type of right would not translate into a greater volume of water received because the differences between one right and another are relativized at the time of delivery, since they depend on the conditions in which it is found. the daughter This finding differs from that of other studies and especially calls into question the claims of some works to generate equity in the distribution of water from a legal and formal modification of the type of right ( 33 ) .

This study reveals a different situation, at least with regard to definitive and eventual rights.

The decrease in flows in recent years and the difficulty in recharging the aquifer mainly affects producers who do not have irrigation rights or those who only have very precarious rights, such as those who only receive the so-called “summer reinforcement”, whose main source of water is springs. In these last cases, as a result of the lack of water, the groundwater suffers a depression so that the natural outcrop of the springs ceases to occur. Equity in distribution is not a matter that is resolved predominantly with legal mechanisms that only grant formal security in the water supply because the right by itself is not a guarantee to receive more water.

iii) Possession of a well to obtain groundwater as an alternative source of irrigation is one of the main ways to adapt to the decrease in flows and can mean the difference between a good harvest and a bad one. However, whether the provision of a well is an effective adaptation depends on legal and economic aspects.

On the one hand, obtaining a permit for the use of groundwater, regulated by resolution 548/12 (resolution 548/12 HTA, Honorable Administrative Court, DGI), establishes that once the drilling permit has been approved and the concessions for For the use of groundwater, producers must make a “pecuniary contribution” of 50,000 pesos, which will be “destined to the Basin Research Fund” ( ).

On the other hand, the costs to face the perforations, their maintenance and operation: “What happens is that here to make wells, you have to drill a hundred and a few meters, they are expensive wells” (Viticultor, Pequeño, Las Heras).

The possibility of obtaining water by means independent of surface irrigation warns about the differential social and economic position, in which producers find themselves in the field to adapt to the lack of water in the basin 64% of the farms use only surface irrigation ; 13% underground and 23% use both sources (CNA, 2002).

At the same time, the questioning of the irregularities linked to the issuance of permits reinforces the calls for the planning of a groundwater policy ( 26 ).

Adaptation practices to lack of water

In addition to the fact that the diversity of strategies to deal with the lack of water corresponds to the economic capacity of the producers, it can be added that the adaptations of the producers do not generate the same results, not only with respect to obtaining water but also with respect to its use. vulnerability situation. In addition to technical irrigation, another important adaptation that requires technology and infrastructure is the construction of private water reservoirs.

Undoubtedly, those who can afford the costs of these methods achieve a more effective use of water on their farm and guarantee the supply. However, they are not easily accessible practices.

Those who do not have access to this, opt for precarious intra-farm water management practices, which, more than investment in capital, demand technical and practical knowledge about irrigation and crops.

Some of the artisanal practices include the selection of priority crops or furrows in each shift, night irrigation, the precaution of not moving the soil too much to avoid large evaporations.

These practices require dedication and some technique, therefore they express a degree of initiative to change on the part of the producers. But some are not even able to sustain these practices and acquire, as in the case of hail, a “passive attitude” that leads them to resign irrigated hectares at the cost of reducing production: “I have left two and a half hectares unplanted because of the fact that there is no water” (Viticola, Pequeño, Guaymallén). This “passivity” does not respond to a lack of will or initiative of the actors in the face of problems, but rather warns of an objective and material impossibility of access to resources, which determine how and under what circumstances individuals are capable of adapting. Thus,

Another relevant adaptation regarding water are the agreements between neighbors to exchange irrigation shifts and maximize the use of the resource according to the needs of each one. “And if they don’t have a well, the neighbor has plenty of water, they pass it on to each other” (Vitícola, Mediano, Luján); “You have to change the water, I don’t know, like the one with a well lends the other the turn of the daughter” (Hortícola, Pequeño, Guaymallén).

In some cases these deals reach the use of shared and consortium wells. This contributes to face the costs of groundwater, so they decide to share: “Let’s all occupy it, if perhaps we each occupy it once a month, then the fixed charge that we pay for it will be lowered” (Viticulturist, Small, lavalle). These agreements become cooperation ties whose formality only reaches the “word agreement”, but they are very significant because they found more useful associative practices than other formal participation spaces: all irrigators, just for the fact of accessing irrigation, They are part of the Irrigation Assemblies that constitute an icon of the local irrigation system. However, the producers do not feel represented by these Assemblies, since they maintain that in these spaces there is no debate on aspects pertinent to the distribution of water (such as infrastructure or shift system), but that they are limited to making accounting balances of the administration. In this way, these formal spaces do not constitute, as would be expected, a possibility to democratically discuss the critical knots of access to water.

Some successful experiences of informal association have also been documented in other works ( 7 ).

This study corroborates that in addition to generating a conjunctural effect on the problem of water supply, they build capacities to creatively face scarcity problems and others that may arise beyond cyclical water emergencies. But they occur in isolation. One of the main limitations of these practices is the lack of trust based on bad experiences that generates a lack of decision on the part of producers to take the initiative and promote them.

When asked about the situations in which they could join experiences of this type, it stands out that they would do so if the idea were proposed by someone very trustworthy and experienced, such as municipal officials in charge of the areas of economic development or rural.

Poor water quality is another problem that contributes to water vulnerability as it leads to obtaining lower quality products and, in some cases, losing access to certain markets. In the upper part of the basin (Luján and Maipú) the water is of higher quality than in the lower part (Las Heras and Lavalle).

The main sources of groundwater contamination are the overexploitation of the aquifer and poorly controlled pumping that produces irreversible salinization of the aquifers; and the contamination of groundwater tables from the use of chemicals by the YPF (Fiscal Oil Fields) oil ventures in the Departments of Maipú and Luján ( 21 ) . To solve it, some choose to drill deeper to obtain higher quality water, others develop “water flushing” techniques by letting the water run for an hour before using it. This generates a spiral of greater demand in times of drought.

Exposures and social and economic adaptations

The scheme of extended or “double” exposures that producers in the basin face, warns about a set of global factors that structure capitalist relations and define vulnerability in rural spaces. The most significant aspects that make up the socioeconomic exposures, according to the results of the study are:

  1. i) The aging of the rural population occurs due to the abandonment of the countryside by young people, as a bridge for the social mobility of the family towards another way of life different from that of the family legacy. Although older adults encourage their children and grandchildren to migrate, they are still concerned about the loss of traditions, practices, knowledge and knowledge.

Young people who marginally stay in the countryside argue their decisions based on the continuity of the family tradition.

  1. ii) The difficulty in finding labor is important for producers. First, the interviewees insist that “it is hard to find people for everything” (Viticulturist, Mediano, Lavalle), especially for harvesting and pruning, partly due to the national unemployment subsidy policy that negatively affects the availability of rural work. “Before, people would come and hit your hands to ask for work, now there aren’t any… as the plans are, they don’t want work…” (Horticulturist, Medium, Guaymallén).

For many producers, these social benefits promote a “non-work” environment where there is no full willingness to work as before or at least to accept any working conditions. This shows the clash of worldviews between two generations and different work cultures: on the one hand, that of the sacrificed, forced agricultural worker, accustomed to not expecting anything from the state; and on the other, the new conditions of social policy and workers’ rights. Another point that makes hiring labor difficult is the formalization requirements of rural work.

“The government requires you to put them in white, that they be of legal age…” (Wine grower, Pequeño, Lavalle) but it is the workers themselves who oppose being registered so as not to lose the benefits they receive through social plans: ” They come and tell you: No, Luichi, you’re going to make us blank… I can’t harvest… because they take away what they give me. [Universal Assignment]” (Winegrower, Pequeño, Lavalle).

Or, instead of paying the tax obligations of the workers, they prefer that the producers keep them in the informal sector and give them that money to improve the meager income of the workers. These contradictions run through most of the producers’ accounts and make the situation more complex.

The shortage of agricultural labor in the harvest season generates uncertainty at key moments in production and producers deploy different strategies according to their possibilities. The little ones are forced to replace the hired labor with their own and family labor, “…luckily my children all collaborate. You get one or two but not what is needed. It costs a lot to harvest” (Horticulturist, Pequeño, Las Heras).

The medium and large ones operate through intermediate agents, especially in the figure of the contractor. However, it does not always depend on the ability to acquire the technology: in some cases, this is not possible because it affects the quality of the product (Malbec grape) or because the type of cultivation does not allow it.

They also have the possibility of adapting to the lack of labor by introducing, along with manual labor, some technology. Large companies, on the other hand, exclusively use salaried labor, fulfilling an important role as employers of seasonal migrants who come attracted by the effective demand for work.

iii) Restructuring and fragmentation of production. Changes in agri-food trade, economic concentration, productive foreignization, new competitiveness requirements ( 2 ) create a new scenario for production in the basin and deepen pre-existing socio-economic inequalities. These processes impact differently depending on the type of production and mark a difference between those who produce “common” grapes and wines (traditional viticulture) and those who produce “fine” grapes and wines (new viticulture). This has a direct correlation with the possibility of not being impacted by the lack of water.

In the new viticulture, producers manage to invest in state-of-the-art technologies that make the use of water resources more efficient according to the high quality standards that the international market demands. Even so, the conversion process of large producers is not easy and they are recognized as sensitive to global, national and provincial economic and financial crises. It translates into obstacles to exports and imports, devaluation of the peso, parallel market of the dollar, inflation; loss of profitability. “Because the dollar is slowing down and inputs are rising in dollars and you earn less per box” (Vitícola, Grande, Luján); “Profitability has been lost, the winery, due to inflation and therefore it squeezes the producer, and the producer is going to be crushed” (Viticola, Medium,

The consequences are disinvestment in agricultural and productive activity, instability and distrust in the policies of the national state towards national and international capital.

Traditional viticulturists, on the other hand, are the small and medium-sized ones who fail to achieve conversion.

Hail, frost, the difficulty in accessing groundwater and irrigation technology, contribute to the impossibility of achieving this recovery, generating an accumulation of difficulties. And this because due to the impossibility of preventing the impacts of the climate, they obtain lower quality products.

“It’s the quality, they put a ladder on you and they look at it, they look at the grains and it has to be all exports, all the grain, otherwise you won’t have any luck… It doesn’t give me the pocket to prepare all that, you saw, because everything, everything is money, everything is silver…” (Winegrower, Pequeño, Las Heras). They cannot enter their products into more profitable sales chains and remain tied to the domestic market. They participate in these local markets through local grape marketing networks (vertical, integrated with wineries and horizontal with cooperatives) that, while guaranteeing the placement of production, limit the ability to negotiate the price, which ends up being defined by big capital. Most of the small and medium producers sell their grapes to four large consortia that produce common wines:

The impossibility of determining the price of the product is the element that most influences the vulnerability of grape producers. “You can’t touch the price! What are you going to do? You don’t even earn good money, at least for expenses” (Viticola, Pequeño, Guaymallén).

The price of products structures inequalities and generates a spiral of causes and consequences with hydroclimatic vulnerabilities: the lack of profitability prevents them from adapting to climate risks and lack of water; and, in turn, the inability to adapt to it contributes to generating lower quality products which, together with other factors, determine profitability. This situation places them at the limit of their profitability.

On some occasions, small and medium producers attribute part of this responsibility to the government, which does not regulate for their benefit.

The marketing networks of small and medium-sized producers of traditional grapes have significant defects. However, it marks a big difference with respect to small fruit and vegetable producers, who constitute a disintegrated, fragmented sector and consequently very marked by the informal economy ( 29 ) .

Most of the small horticulturalists place their products at local fairs but through intermediaries who charge a fee to the producer. Only some can do without these intermediaries. These are generally Bolivian producers whose family work structure allows it.

Although horticulturists are the most exposed to suffer the impacts of lack of water (because their crops are more sensitive to water stress), the possibility of doing without intermediaries for marketing means that Bolivian horticulturists have a greater capacity to set their prices. prices.

Socioeconomic adaptation strategies

As mentioned, the grape marketing network provides a degree of protection for small winegrowers that makes an important difference with small fruit and vegetable growers. Still, many grape growers can’t break out of subsistence. When evaluating the adaptations of these groups to the indicated exposures, the grape producers display similar strategies to the others. There are two ways in which they try to modify their situation of vulnerability.

  1. i) The change of activity is synonymous with defeat as producers. Given the lack of profitability and investment capacity that the market demands, added to the hydrometeorological impacts, they are forced to seek forms of subsistence outside of farm activities, “The native people here began to sell, they bought themselves The best is 1 or 2 small houses. They are living from rents, it’s easier, you don’t have problems. You’re not looking up for a stone sleeve to fall” (Horticola, Pequeño; Las Heras).

The subdivision and/or sale of productive land for the real estate business is one of the most interesting options in this direction, “All these climatic scourges are added to the low economic returns that the wineries provide when they buy the raw material, then there comes a time where the circuit can be in an area of ​​closed neighborhoods, countries and there are small producers who disappear after selling (…)” (Vitícola, Mediano, Luján).

The change in the productive use of the land is advancing with the low profitability of production and at the rate of real estate interests. But it has serious consequences. The lands now used for housing construction maintain water rights. This generates an arena of conflicts when distributing water. In addition, it questions the water law that indicates that water belongs to the land for productive purposes. The main norm that governs water is known as the “Water Law of 1884” and is prior to the Provincial Constitution of 1916. There are also specific norms and laws that regulate different areas of water resources.

Some producers are more likely than others to resort to these land abandonment practices. And this because not all areas are equally sought after and valued to develop real estate projects.

  1. ii) Diversification. Income from the development of alternative economic activities to agriculture (commercial, community services, tourism, etc.) is another adaptation of undercapitalized producers. 60% of the small producers in the Mendoza river basin carry out work outside the agricultural sector (especially in Guaymallén, Las Heras and Lavalle) (CNA, 2002). Contrary to what the bibliography maintains that income diversification can be a determinant of adaptive capacity to reduce vulnerability ( 18), the situation in this basin is different. And this because the new jobs for producers who diversify their activities, in general, consist of precarious jobs and poor pay ( 35). “I began to become aware of other things and I said we have to open another “kiosquito” to have another activity that allows us to make ends meet more or less” (Hortícola, Pequeño, Luján).

The precariousness and instability of the new income questions the assumption accepted by the scientific community of Climate Change that it is the access door to a better “adaptation” of producers to climatic contingencies. This warns about the theoretical difficulties of establishing generalizations that abstract from the particularities of the cases. Small and medium producers add “other income” but do not go beyond subsistence and this does not contribute to alleviating the impact of climatic events.

The large ones, on the other hand, rather than diversify income, have the capacity to accumulate capital that later translates into the expansion of profit circuits towards other economic items (tourism and hotels, among others) that position them more favorably in the face of the consequences of the GAC.

So, differentiated vulnerability is expressed in the coexistence of two opposing logics: that of accumulation versus that of subsistence ( 2 ). The losers of the CAG are the small producers affected by soil degradation, the quality and availability of water, and climatic contingencies. But especially due to marketing problems and price instability, scarce resources and financing, few spaces for organization. These groups see their condition worsen and are increasingly adapting to survive with less, while the threat to the very continuity of agricultural production grows.

Conditioning factors of adaptive capacity and adaptation gaps

From the review of the most important aspects of vulnerability in the study area, exposures, sensitivities, adaptation practices and their scope, in the previous section it became evident that access to resources, mainly economic ones, but also others such as water, labor, etc., is fundamental in explaining adaptive capacities. Along with this, it is found that some of these determinants deserve special attention and are critical because they constitute potential nodes from which to contribute to adaptation planning.

They are presented in terms of gaps (between the conceptual assumptions and what was found) because beyond being recognized as essential for strengthening adaptation capacities, they cannot be effectively used by the actors, or their particularities prevent them from acting as enhancers of capabilities.

  1. i) Knowledge and information: availability and access to specific information on water, climate and production factors contributes to early risk management and thus provides certainty that broadens the range of opportunities for decision-making. There is a large amount of quality and sophisticated information, produced by the state and by professional specialists from large companies (warehouses, fruit packers, seed factories). Although much of this information is public, there are obstacles to its circulation that affect its usefulness: the means of dissemination are limited to certain groups of producers who can access them; the language is too technical and there are no efforts to adapt it to other realities. In addition,

However, they consider them irrelevant, distant and alien to their realities and needs. In this way they do not contribute to the transfer of relevant knowledge and technologies. Paradoxically, much scientific research is carried out with the aim of providing more and better information, since the existing one is classified as deficient. The analysis developed here concludes, then, in the need to identify in depth the demand for information: what is necessary to know and where and why the available knowledge fails.

  1. ii) Technology: several studies support the technocratic vision (it adheres to the specialized knowledge of the pure and applied sciences adopted for decades by economic thought and from which it is considered that the scientific can only be approached with quantitative methods), such as the adaptation par excellence to the CAG. From this technological optimism ( 24) derive socio-technological strategies that appeal to the capacity of engineering ( 23), as the best way to reduce the impacts of climatic contingencies ( 13 ).

In Mendoza, the excessive faith placed in the technical and the solutions based on the modernization of irrigation are not enough to overcome vulnerability. Rather, it blurs problems of unequal access to water, which warn of a structural process that cannot be resolved with “technical adjustments” alone. Therefore, access to technologies relevant to climatic extremes (and irrigation in particular) is conditioned by the socioeconomic characteristics of the producers. Without underestimating the relevance that technological infrastructure may have, it is important to highlight that, as explained in the adaptations to the lack of water,10 ).

iii) Social capital: the experiences of associativism, in general, have shown to generate important contributions to the improvement of the adaptability of producers to the CAG. In Mendoza, however, the existing formal participation instances (Irrigation Assemblies) do not contribute to creating capacities in producers. In the interviews, it has been verified that they do not feel represented by these Assemblies. These do not respond to the interests and needs of the producers and therefore are not legitimized as spaces for participation. On the contrary, they cause mistrust and discourage participation. At the same time, the DGI has prepared workshops with irrigators on numerous occasions, but later, no concrete results emerge from them.

As an alternative, these same producers develop informal ties of cooperation between neighbors that are much more significant for the development of capacities (sharing shifts, technology and machinery). This encourages promoting initiatives that arise from the same actors, not imposing them from above by regulations. In addition, it highlights the importance of evaluating social capital, beyond formal associativism and not taking it as an indicator par excellence as some research postulates ( 15 ). Therefore, in Mendoza, even when there are numerous participation instruments, there is no capacity to take action on the basis of that participation.

  1. iv) Institutional capital: certain features of formal institutions facilitate the management of risks related to climate and natural resources. But the following aspects of the institutional framework, mainly water, in Mendoza are obstacles to strengthening adaptation capacities.

Fragmentation in the management of natural resources and the territory

The lack of a territorial policy that has the capacity to order natural resources, production and urban growth and that includes a global, comprehensive and sustainable understanding of the territory is notable.

The Provincial Law on Territorial Planning (OT) and Land Use No. 8051, enacted in 2009, shows the difficulties in “putting an end to” and regulating the interests of powerful economic groups.

The main objective of the OT and Land Use Law is “to reconcile the process of economic, social and environmental development with balanced and efficient forms of territorial occupation” and guides a model of organization of the territory 30 years from now. However, in its implementation it has encountered some problems associated with social and economic interests that involve “ordering”, planning and managing the territory and was questioned by different social actors who, with the implementation of the plan, see their social and economic interests threatened .

Rigidity in supply management

Historically, there has been a greater knowledge in Mendoza about the supply of water for irrigation, than about its demand. If the surface water formally granted to the land is not enough, the producers resort to groundwater. But the ability to adapt by accessing groundwater is something that, as explained, only some can take advantage of since it presents some peculiarities that restrict its use. In this way, supply management (above demand management) and the inherence of water to land (without considering other factors) indirectly promote exclusionary mechanisms similar to those of the market.

Water is assigned by volumes proportional to the type of irrigator’s right. In excess times, proportional adjustments are made to all assigned water volumes. The same in times of scarcity.

In a context of water emergency, the DGI (among other measures), reduces in equal proportions the volume of water for each type of license without taking into account the varieties of crops, the demand of the soil, the moment of its growth cycle of the crop. As a result of this practice, a rigid system of water allocation becomes an equally rigid system of adjustment in the face of scarcity and variability.

The “soft” aspects of institutions

Another fundamental aspect of the vulnerability of the institutional system is that which refers to aspects of corruption, legitimacy, values, transparency. It is not often that vulnerability assessments focus on these aspects and that they consider them to be a fundamental pillar for building trust.


This work addressed the vulnerability of agricultural producers in the Mendoza river basin, Argentina, to the impacts of the CAG. These impacts -which can be synthesized in important changes in snow precipitation and in low-lying areas, temperature and average annual flows- translate into a decrease in emerging discharges and the advancement of maximum discharge peaks. The main consequences of these changes will be a lower water supply in the oases of the region. Along with this, hailstorms and frosts, although they are not events exclusively associated with the CAG, are two climatic contingencies that also have a considerable impact on the vulnerability of the producers in the basin studied.

All farmers are exposed to the impacts of these hydrometeorological events, but the sensitivity and possibility of being affected by them is always conditioned by socioeconomic processes that, ultimately, are key to understanding the structural causes of vulnerability (globalization of the economy and politics, liberalization of agriculture). It is striking that after five years of water emergency, and according to the perceptions of the producers, the lack of water is not the main problem, as might be expected from the impacts of the CAG.

The water resource is important, but from the perspective of the actors, what emerges in the first place as determinants of their vulnerability are the economic factors (prices-profitability). These findings in no way invalidate the importance of water scarcity or the other expected variations; Rather, they express that socioeconomic exposures operate as important mediators of these hydrometeorological impacts. In this way, the analysis presented, although its scope is limited to the context of the study area, confirms the importance of studying vulnerability at the intersection of social, political and economic dimensions with physical-environmental ones. That is, understanding that vulnerability arises from the interactions between human and natural systems.

However, the joint action of factors typical of hydrometeorological and socioeconomic crises is presented as a much more complex process than events happening simultaneously. It is the persistence of power distribution schemes in the regulation and management of resources, which express social inequalities, hegemonies and subordinations ( 29 ).

Conditioned by access to resources, producers adjust to new situations in different ways, with different degrees of “passivity” (resignation to climatic forces due to lack of capabilities and socioeconomic conditions) or proactivity (collective organization to transform determinants of adaptive capacity) or reproducing the rules of the game (non-inclusive technical solutions, targeted policies that reproduce vulnerability conditions of producers).

The adaptation to the CAG does not happen in a linear sequence, nor is it the product of the simple awareness of the predicted changes or the will of the actors involved, or the transfer of technology itself. The determinants of adaptation capacities do not admit this type of unidirectional and direct relationships that some authors insist on highlighting. In some cases, institutional efforts to provide resources – which should be central to adaptation – are outdated.

The development of adaptation capacities is, above all, a matter of power, political, economic and social relations for the access and use of resources in a framework marked by the regional and global economy. In this sense, compared to the studies that drop the weight of the capacities in a kind of voluntarism of the actors, it is highlighted that the adaptation capacities do not depend only on the will and initiative of the actors but also on the environment and the possibilities that are available. provides to dispose of the resources.

On the other hand, not all adaptations are equally “beneficial” for all social actors. Some imply the transfer of vulnerabilities and generate negative impacts on physical resources and ecosystems or on other groups.

At the same time, understanding vulnerability at the intersection with the social, shows that some strategies may not directly strengthen the capacities of producers to face the impacts of the climate, for example, the bonds of trust to dispense with intermediaries in marketing. , but it will strengthen them to access other opportunities. Or vice versa, a strategy focused on climate impact, such as anti-hail nets, might not have a significant impact on the vulnerability of producers because it will leave other more important socioeconomic issues unresolved, for example, price determination.

Finally, a reflection on the role of research in the problem addressed. The recognition of the problem of vulnerability to the CAG and the need to install it on the public agenda is a great advance.

However, it is important to recognize that there is no direct transfer or association between “vulnerability research” and “policy decision making”. Without understanding the root causes that explain vulnerability processes, it is impossible for the scientific community to provide tools for political decision-making. Given this, the call for the development of a perspective that illuminates certain dimensions that monodisciplinary approaches do not problematize is reinforced, especially considering the non-climatic aspects of the problem.

The challenge for the study of the CAG is undoubtedly the construction of interdisciplinary approaches (between natural and social sciences) for the development and promotion of comprehensive policies to address vulnerability. Future research efforts should be oriented in this direction.


  1. Abraham, L.; Alturria, L.; Fonzar, A.; Ceresa, A.; Arnés, E. 2014. Proposal for sustainability indicators for grapevine production in Mendoza, Argentina. Magazine of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. National University of Whose. Mendoza. Argentina. 46(1): 161-180. [  Links]
  2. Altschuler, B. 2009. Work and workers in Latin America: historical perspectives and current issues. IV Interoceanic Congress of Latin American Studies, X Argentinean-Chilean Seminar and IV Southern Cone Seminar on Social Sciences, Humanities and International Relations: “The journey of freedom before the bicentennial”. Mendoza. [  Links]
  3. Aruani, C. 2011. Climate and Viticulture in Argentina. Evaluation of the current situation in the Mendoza and San Juan regions. Results from the preliminary report of the OIV SCHOLARSHIP. Available at: 07-20-2015. [  Links]


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