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Collective Water Governance and Rural Out-Migration


As a transdisciplinary scholar working with local communities, this website introduces my work on feminist political ecology, water governance, food security, agrarian change and Education for Sustainable Development.

My current main research project studies “Revitalizing community-managed irrigation systems in contexts of out-migration in Nepal” (2019-2024). I am an Associate Professor at the Department of Urban and Rural Development at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala.

This project seeks to identify the pathways through which a greater engagement of marginal groups can help to revitalize collective natural resource management. Such bottom-up processes of change could be a vital part of a long-term transition towards more equal access to resources and improved food security in rural households of the Global South.

Irrigation systems, crucial for the food security of many populations in rural areas of the world’s semi-arid and arid regions, require sustained collective action. Widespread male out-migration presents major challenges for maintaining irrigation systems. However, existing scholarship suggests that changes in household structure and labor relations may provide new opportunities for increased involvement of women in the local governance of important resources, but the conditions under which this could occur remain unknown.

Through a study of farmer-managed irrigation systems in Nepal, I ask:

- How are community-managed irrigation systems changing as a result of male out-migration?

- How do changing household structure and labor relations open up possibilities for marginalised groups to engage with collective irrigation management?

By developing a synthesis of theory on translocality and feminist political ecology, I employ
a mixed methods approach to study how rapid agrarian and social transformations are altering
existing forms of collective action.

Revitalizing community-managed irrigation systems in contexts of out-migration in Nepal

Research Interests

My research explores marginalization processes in natural resource governance and rural development to contribute to our understanding of the relationship between food security and women’s empowerment. I combine social and environmental justice scholarship with political ecology, development and feminist theories to explore just transformations. My work in South Asia promotes insights into processes of social exclusion due to intersections of gender, age, ethnicity, class and caste characteristics at multiple scales (household, village, district, development programming, national and policy level). My research agenda embraces two broad themes:

Water governance, rural out-migration and the feminization of agriculture

Feminist political ecology, collective action and participatory action research

Leder, S. (2024): “Translocal resource governance, social relations and aspirations: Linking translocality and feminist political ecology to explore farmer-managed irrigation systems and migration in Nepal”. Geoforum 148.

Leder, S. (2022): “Beyond the “Feminisation of Agriculture”: Rural out-migration, changing gender relations and emerging spaces in natural resource management” Journal of Rural Studies 91. 157-169.

Leder, S., Sugden, F., Raut, M., Saikia, P., Dhananjay, J. (2019): “Ambivalences of collective farming: feminist political ecologies from Eastern India and Nepal.” International Journal of the Commons 13 (1): 105-129.

Leder, S., Clement, F., Karki, E. (2017): “Reframing women’s empowerment in water security programs in Western Nepal” Gender and Development 25 (2): 235-251.

Leder, S. (2018): “Transformative Pedagogic Practice. Education for Sustainable Development and Water Conflicts in Indian Geography Education” Singapore: Springer Publisher. Education for Sustainability Book Series. 308 p. ISBN 9789811323683.


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