Principal Water Resources Management Specialist, Asian Development Bank (ADB)/ ADB country Director, Nepal
Over the past four decades, Asian region has developed from the region of chronic food deficit to food self sufficiency. Some countries arc now moving ahead towards economic prosperity. Throughout the process, irrigated agriculture has been the heart of growth in rural areas. Timely and reliable water supply coupled with high-yielding varieties of seeds and fertilizers boosted agriculture productivity. Crop production more than doubled or even tripled in many countries, leading to rapid poverty reduction particularly in East and Southeast Asia.
Looking towards the future, however, agriculture in rural Asia faces ‘immense challenges. There will be 1.5 billion extra people on the continent by 2050. More people will be in urbanized areas with more rapid changes in social and economic life including dietary habits. It is estimated that demand for cereals will double, whereas demand growth for non-cereals such as fruits and vegetables will be much more. On the other hand, existing water resources are increasingly under stress. Many river basins face competing demands for water from irrigation, rapidly growing urban and industrial sectors, and environmental needs particularly during the dry seasons. The impact of climate change may exacerbate the condition with more frequent and severe droughts and floods. The recent food price crisis also sent an alarming message on possible external impacts on national food security in many Asian countries.
In meeting the future challenges, rigorous efforts are needed to enhance the productivity of irrigated agriculture. At present there are large gaps between the average yields of cereals in irrigated area-2.7 t/ha in South Asia and 4.0 t/ha in East Asia in 2000-and potentials attained in advanced areas within the regions. Given the relatively limited scope in expanding irrigation and increasing yields in rain-fed areas, (3) improving the performance of existing irrigated areas remains priority for many countries. They also need to produce diversified crops to meet the diverse needs of consumers. This will require improved infrastructure and its management systems, farming practice, linkages to input and output markets, and their human interface.
Since the 1980s, farmer involvement in irrigation management has been focused by policy makers and external financiers. This is pursued as participatory irrigation management (PIM), by improving existing farmer managed irrigation systems (FMIS), and promoting irrigation management transfer (IMT) of the systems built by irrigation agencies. Farmer empowerment and capacity building still remains centerpiece of development efforts in meeting the said future challenges. However, a recent study by International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAQ) (2009) funded by ADB reported that PIM/IMT initiatives have not lived up to the expectations, calling for renewed efforts with improvements and exploration of alternatives. This paper aims to present key factors that appear to be underlying the performance of PIM/IMT initiatives, based on the author’s experience in similar schemes assisted by ADB primarily in South Asia and other countries including Japan.
KEY FACTORS UNDERLYING PIM/IMT PERFORMANCE POLICY FRAMEWORK AND ENFORCEABILITY:
In pursuing irrigated agriculture productivity enhancement through PIM/IMI programs, establishment of requisite policy framework-policy, law, and implementation guidelines-has been pursued in many countries. The framework usually declares policy objectives, and then sets out principles, guidelines, and institutional framework to achieve those objectives. In Nepal, Irrigation Policy was first promulgated in 1992, and revised in 1997 and 2003. The Policy duly recognized the imperativeness of participatory management in irrigation systems. Many countries have national water policies adopting the same or similar principles of PIM.
While these should be appreciated as the essential first step, there has been a sizable gap between the policy declarations on the one hand, and field-level implementation of the declared policies on the other. For better implementation, there is a clear need for (i) clearly specifying implementation procedures and arrangements in a consistent manner with the policy principles, and (ii) establishing their effective enforcement mechanisms.
A relevant practice in this regard is found in Japan,(4) where all irrigation related public works funded by the government at any level must first be requested by the concerned water user association (WUA) with (a) written consent of more than 67% of all the cultivators of the command area,’ and (b) fully appraised project plan including the WUAs duties such as cost recovery for O&M and investments, as a milestone of approving or initiating the government-funded works.(6) This has been stipulated in the Land Improvement Law that dates back to 1899. Where there is no WUA, the Law requires that WUA establishment process needs to take place concurrently with the planning process. Nationwide, all projects must follow the procedure.
A similar procedure was adopted in Bangladesh in its Participatory Water Management Guidelines in 2000. It has been put into practice by Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), which is responsible for water management schemes having the command area of less than 1000ha. LGED pursues compliance to the Guidelines in their programs nationwide. (7) The procedure has also been promoted under the Community-managed Irrigated Agriculture Sector Project (CMIASP) assisted by ADB in Nepal. However, its implementation remains a challenge, since other programs do not oblige such requirements. There has been a tendency that it is taken as complex or burdensome. More consistent approach would be needed for its successful implementation, as well as ownership by the agency staff. (8)
PUBLIC IRRIGATION AGENCY AND CLIENT/WUA OR1ENTATION:
In promoting FMIS improvements and IMT through public programs, the role of the public irrigation agency (IA) and its field staff is most critical. PIM/IMT programs require day-to-day interactions with WUAs and farmers. Their success therefore requires the attitudes of the IA staff to provide irrigation programs in a manner under which farmer aspirations are cost- effectively met and self-sustaining development and O&M mechanisms are set in place. This requires the IAs to become service oriented agents driven by the desire to serve for the welfare of the WUAs as important partners, from a traditional construction-driven agency that sees WUAs and their interests as subordinate. This remains a critical challenge in many countries.
In the above example in Japan, this service orientation mechanism has been embedded in the said Law. Specifically, the IA staff is bound to work closely with WUAs during project preparation, implementation, and post- implementation, given its principle that no works can be implemented without the request or consent of the WUA. (9)
In the field of private corporations, there are numerous examples of a drastic change in the culture and management from loss-making sick company to a leading corporation in a short period. Such change is often underlain by (i) a major shift in the perception of the raison-d’être of the organization (“perception’ reform), (ii) culture to encourage sense of achievements in making changes for the better, and (iii) strong and dynamic leadership who drives the process.
We remain optimistic that such change in attitude is also possible for the IAs promoting PIM/IMT. There are cases where strong leadership was able to change the staff perception and organizational performance in the public sector. One example, although slightly different in the operating sub-sector, could be Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority of Cambodia which has developed as a role model of public sector water service delivery agency. Under long term strong leadership of its general director, the Authority fully operates the norm of high service quality and provider accountability, and attains reliable water supply with low water loss, 99.9% cost recovery for house connections and O&M, and regular operational profits. They have carefully crafted service quality maintenance and staff incentive systems to self-sustain the operation. The case of LGED is also noteworthy in this relation, which grew from a small rural works cell in the 1970s to a full- fledged rural infrastructure department with annual expenditure of $480 million in 2007/08, under the stable long term leadership of Chief Engineer. They introduced strong norm of efficiency and quality in project implementation. (10)
Apart from the importance of perception reforms for the IAs, effective operation of the WUA-driven approach of PIM/IMT program implementation also requires necessary incentives and logistics for field staffs. This is a significant challenge for countries like Nepal where many irrigation schemes and WUAs are located in remote areas. The importance of staff “incentives” cannot be overstated, which includes not only (i) logistics to undertake the field works with WUA interactions, but also (ii) availability of resources to support sufficient planning and WUA development, and (iii) rewards and recognition for (a) higher quality of WUA development and quality and thoroughness in planning, and for (b) motivating more demand and scopes for WUA-driven works. In many cases, IA managerial staff tends to press for fast physical and financial progress against the quality of the preceding process that is time consuming but has often fundamental implications for the sustainability and prosperity of FMIS and IMT schemes. Good service orientation to WUAs is not usually recognized as rewarding performance, either.
WUAS-DEMAND-DRIVEN GENUINE DEVELOPMENT TOWARDS FMIS PROSPERITY:
Any FMIS with prosperity will have high irrigation intensity and water use efficiency, diversified cropping pattern including high value crops, and high yields. This calls for genuine WUAs that can operate, maintain, and progressively improve irrigation infrastructure on its own while seeking support of the IAs as necessary, and can also facilitate the move towards the common goal of the WUA members-enhanced crop production and community livelihoods.
However, many WUAs have large gaps to develop their institutions and capacities to such level of maturity. Many are suffering from unequal water distribution with large wastage and loss, chronic deterioration of irrigation infrastructure, and subsequent reduction of irrigated area. A critical question is how the PIM/IMT programs can attain genuine WUA development: what are the specific measures and approaches to generate self-sustaining development mechanisms within the WUAs.
There are a number of literatures and findings regarding the necessary elements and approaches for the establishment and functioning of successful WUAs. These have been intensively presented and discussed during the past international FMIS seminars. (11). Key elements could be synthesized to include:
• Legal and regulatory framework to clearly define the WUAs’ powers and duties (including the power to undertake O&M and mobilizing local resources from the members), and the regulatory mechanism for the appropriate functioning of WUAs;
• WUAs four key functions (planning and decision making; resource mobilization and management; communication and coordination; and conflict resolution) to undertake its activities (water distribution, maintenance, etc.) are put in operation with progressive establishment of rules, roles, precedents, and procedures, with transparent records kept;
•Eight principles of Ostrom (1992) including the above, covering (i) clear boundaries in area and members; (ii) balance in member contribution and benefits; (iii) sanctions to violators; (iv) agreed rules that can be modified by members; (v) timely conflict resolution mechanism: (vi) monitoring by accountable people; (vii) organizational layers dealing with different decisions and functions; and (viii) autonomy and legal recognition;
• Critical technical basis, i.e., sound irrigation infrastructure (from main to minor and sub-minor canals, and field channels) that can provide fair and transparent water distribution;
• Social factors including (i) mutual trust and community spirit (sense of solidarity and social responsibility) to pursue common goals: and (ii) organizational drive to move towards the goals led by genuine leadership that creates critical “demand for change”.
In general, government financed PIM/IMT programs tend to have provided insufficient time, attention, and resources to bring the WUAs up to the levels having sufficient mechanisms and momentums for self-sustaining progressive development. It has often been evaluated that they have focused too much on structures and formalities, such as enrolling members, setting up committees and subcommittees, and defining constitutions and by-laws following the standard formats prescribed by the government. In response, recent programs are taking a more “task- or function-based” approach to support WUAs’ capacity development to this end, although this is a time- consuming challenge. Furthermore, as pointed out by Uphoff (2002), such approach may still be deemed “supply driven” and insufficient, unless WUAs are motivated to strongly drive the process on their own, with the creation of “demand for change”.
The examples of successful WUA development, such as those reported by Uphoff (2002) for Sri Lanka and others found in the region have general common tendency, including (i) WUA’s demand for development is motivated, e.g., with exploration of common WUA vision and goals (that can unite the members and stimulate their participation); (ii) genuine local leaders are identified who can drive community actions with communication and coordination; (iii) progressive community actions are facilitated for better water management and local agriculture development (even before main physical work starts); (iv) bottom up approach is taken starting the lower level of management units (such as turnout level); (12) and (v) sufficient time and efforts are provided to support the process of community decision making and actions while putting into operation WUA functions and tasks.
Despite the above, rural areas in some countries have started to see rapid social and economic transformation, including urbanization, out migration, increased off-farm employment opportunities for farmers, increased absentee landowners and share croppers, and their higher education levels leading to diversifying social values. These have implications for the effective functions of the community-based organizations such as WUAs. The structure and operational modality of WUAs also need to adapt to the dynamic socioeconomic environment of the rural areas towards the future, such as with increased use of cash as opposed to labor contribution, and stronger orientation and attitude as service provider to deliver irrigation to the farm plots as opposed to community organization to manage the common resources.
Thanks Professor Upendra Gautam for allowing this paper to publish which is of high import to Nepal. Text courtesy: Dynamics of Farmer Managed Irrigation Systems ( A compilation of Seminar papers held 25-26 March 2010, in Kathmandu. book Chief Ed. ( Second part to be posted soon).
#1: Principal Water Resources Management Specialist, Asian Development Bank (ADB). The views
Expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ADB.
#2: The information in this section drew heavily on the recent study by International water Management
Institute and Food and Agriculture Organization (2009) funded by ADB.
#3: This is except for lower terrains of Eastern South Asia region having further potentials for groundwater irrigation.
# 4: The country has about 2.9 million ha of irrigated land in 2003. Irrigation systems are mostly managed by land improvement districts or WUAs, totaling 6.345 in number and 4.2 million farm households.
#5: Under the Law, all command area cultivators are legal members of WUAs. With the consent of more than 67% of the members, the Law enforces the application of the WUA duties to all the members regardless of the consent. In practice, more than 90% of members’ consent is pursued for higher consensus.
#6: The latter in many cases are prepared by the government in consultation with the WUA.
#7: LGED has only two programs for the Sector to cover the nation assisted by ADB and by JICA. On the other hand, the implementation of the Guidelines by Bangladesh Water Development board that is responsible for all larger schemes remains a challenge, with its implementation still limited only to externally assisted programs.
#8: Further appropriate procedure may need to be explored for larger-scale schemes, where main and distributary level canals may need to be constructed early for efficient time management of program benefit delivery.
#9: It is interesting to note that senior representatives of large and long established WUAs treat the mid and junior level staff of the IA as their subordinates in many circumstances.
#10: In Nepal, the CMIASP has been facilitating the preparation of vision and institutional development strategy by department of Irrigation (DOI) towards reflecting the principle of PIM in its organizational management. This was to support the organizational change process from a bottom up approach. A good draft document was prepared by 2005/06 and discussed in a few rounds of workshops at the regional and national levels. Further efforts appear necessary to disseminate and discuss the draft with field staff for the stronger ownership.
# 11: For example, they were intensively discussed in the articles by Uphoff (2002) including the excellent example in Sri Lanka in the 2nd FMIS seminar. Abernethy (2004) and Sutawan (2004) including the reference to Ostrom (1992) in the 3rd FMIS seminar.
#12-In case of Chhattisgarh Irrigation Project assisted by ADB in India, action plans are prepared and implemented at turnout, distributary, and WUA levels starting with simple actions such as canal cleaning and efficient and water tight turnout operations and improved agriculture practices. Impressive results have beets achieved even before physical works are fully implemented, with increased irrigated area (from 70% to 100% of command), introduction of tail-first water distribution, and yield increase (70% in irrigated area and 200% in non-irrigated tail end).
#13: Apart from regulatory role of individual WUA performance, limited functions have been put into place to regulate the water allocation and use by multiple WUAs and other users from a river basin management perspective, which would be needed particularly for the effective management of basin water resources during the dry seasons.
Abernethy, CL., 2004, Can Programmes of irrigation Management Transfer be
Completed Successfully? Proceedings of the 3 International Seminar held on 9-10
September 2004, Kathmandu, Nepal
# ADB, 2007. Project Completion Report on the Second Irrigation Sector Project
(Nepal) (Loan l437-NEP[SFJ), Manila.
# IWMI and FAQ, 2009. Revitalizing Asia’s Irrigation: To sustainably meet tomorrow’s food needs. Colombo, Sri Lanka.
# Ostrom, F., 1992, Crafting Institutions for Self-governing Irrigation Systems. San Francisco, USA: Institute for Contemporary Studies, referred by Abernethy (2004) and Sutawan (2004).
# Sutawan, N., 2004. The Need for Sustaining Farmer Managed Irrigation Systems, Proceedings of the 3rd. International Seminar held on 9-10 September 2004, Kathmandu, Nepal.
# Uphoff, N., 2002, Understanding and Utilizing the Softer Aspects of “Software” for Improving Irrigation Management, Proceedings of the 2nd international seminar held on 18-19 April 2002, Kathmandu, Nepal.