Accepted paper:

Environmental upgrading: from water risk to water security in global fruit production networks of the Western Cape


Nora Lanari (Coventry University)

Paper short abstract:

In response to water risks, Western Cape fruit producers deploy environmental upgrading strategies to ensure water security for their productive activities. These strategies impact water governance as producers secure access and control over water, reinforcing power structures and inequities.

Paper long abstract:

While sustainability is an increasingly important topic within Global Production Networks (GPN) research, the interactions between GPNs and the environment have been underexplored, more specifically the implications of environmental upgrading. This research project works towards closing this gap by conceptualising environmental upgrading as a strategy on the spectrum from water risks to water security. This is done by unravelling the global fruit production network with a specific focus on South Africa's Western Cape and investigating its interaction with the local water governance regime. Following a qualitative approach, 76 semi-structured interviews were conducted and analysed, complemented by an in-depth water policy analysis. Results show that different actors along fruit GPNs counter a series of water risks by deploying a set of strategies at different scales to ensure water security for the production of export fruit. Many of these strategies fall within the realm of environmental upgrading. A political economy lens reveals that while environmental upgrading within the context of water use on export fruit farms is observed in the Western Cape, it allows fruit producers to secure access and control over water resources, reinforcing existing power structures and inequities. Insights from this research have the potential to lead to a more thorough understanding of environmental upgrading in GPN, its implications for sustainable development, and the impact on water governance.

panel I5
Environmental upgrading, trade and globalisation: implications for sustainable development