Discussion Points For Chapter

• Irrigation is the world's largest user of fresh water, and the proportion of water supplies it uses is highest in lower-income countries. The

vast bulk of future increases in world food production will depend on irrigation. The per capita availability of renewable water supplies is declining by more than 25% per decade in many countries. More than 40 countries now experience serious chronic water shortages in at least some of their regions. Even in countries without serious water shortages, irrigation has seen its economic viability decline, as a result of lower-than-expected farm returns under irrigation and high construction costs of the systems.

In addition, the design of irrigation schemes and their management has been deficient in many cases, with the consequence of degradation and even abandonment of some systems. Among functioning irrigation systems, most of them deliver more water than is needed to crops, and many suffer from inequitable distribution of water among the system's users. While the barriers to making irrigation work well are multiple and formidable, there is no other single technology or policy intervention in agriculture that promises benefits of the magnitudes that irrigation does, provided its potential can be realized. Throughout the world, there are many examples of successful irrigation schemes.

The principal policy objectives for irrigation systems are efficiency, equity and sustainability. Efficiency has both technical and economic dimensions - efficient physical use of the scarce resource that is water, and economic viability. Equity refers to equal treatment of all irrigators in the system in terms of their access to water and to targeting new systems as much as possible on 'land-poor' rural families. Sustainabil-ity means avoiding depletion of groundwater and salinization and other forms of degradation of the soils.

In light of the growing scarcity of water worldwide, policy emphasis is shifting from developing new sources of fresh water and water delivery systems to managing demands for water.

Irrigation management is a component of the broader responsibility for all water management. Irrigation management needs to take place in a holistic context in which all uses in a watershed are considered. Numerous classes of optional policy instruments are available for implementing water management strategies, including the following: direct administration of water fees and allocations at the irrigation system level; management of water allocations, quality levels and fees through watershed or river basin authorities; capacity building among users and managers; involvement of stakeholders in irrigation system design and operation; decentralization of public sector management organs; codification of water rights and establishment of regulatory frameworks; developing markets in water rights; joint management of transboundary water basins; and public investments in water extraction and conveyance facilities.

Adopting a more systemic approach does not imply greater centralization of decisions or greater control over water resources by a government. On the contrary, it means developing partnerships among all stakeholders, including local and national government entities, communities, irrigation users and other water users.

A prerequisite for an irrigation development program is a national economic policy framework, both macroeconomic and sectoral, that is conducive to agricultural growth. A basic requirement of a national water policy, and therefore of an irrigation strategy, is a national water assessment. Before proceeding with the design of irrigation projects, a prior decision has to be taken as to how much supplies of irrigation water can be expanded, or whether they can be expanded at all, in light of projected water balances by watershed and nationwide.

Most reviews of irrigation investment strategies recommend giving priority to rehabilitation of irrigation areas rather than development of new areas. However, the priority accorded to rehabilitation needs to be qualified in a number of respects. It may be more important to improve the institutional aspects of the system, or the policy environment, than to rehabilitate the physical structures.

• In cases in which physical rehabilitation would appear to have a role, it is important to evaluate the original engineering design and decide whether it functions sufficiently well to warrant rehabilitating it.

• There are many types of irrigation systems, but the most common distinctions are full versus supplemental systems, modern versus traditional (informal) schemes and large versus small schemes. More than one type of system may have a place in a national water strategy; accordingly, all types should be reviewed in a national water assessment.

• Supplemental irrigation is used to compensate for dry spells during the rainy season, or to prolong the season of water availability for crops. It usually is based on pumping, whether from surface or groundwater. Its desirability is dictated by climatic conditions; in regions where the rainy season often is irregular, it can play a vital role in preventing severe damage to crops. Supplemental irrigation can be critical not only for increasing the volumes of production but also for ensuring the quality of products like fruit and vegetables, for it enables farmers to control the timing of water deliveries to the plants.

• Small-scale irrigation projects generally have been more successful than larger ones, but it has been found that the degree of farmer participation in system management is a more important determinant of success than system size.

• The design itself of irrigation systems sometimes tends to generate conflict among users, especially in larger systems with discretionary water control elements, and sometimes it encourages over-application of water. Improved system design, generally in the direction of engineering simplifications, can make the system operations both more efficient in water use and more equitable among irrigators.

• Appropriate system design is also critical from a gender perspective. To ensure gender issues are addressed in the design, it is important to carry out a gender analysis of the involved communities first, with special emphasis on identifying the agricultural and water-related tasks that women carry out. The design process should be partici patory and women's groups should be consulted without the presence of men.

• It is important to be aware of the hazards of using systems based on pumping in environments that cannot readily support them. In many countries, more pumps are out of order than are functioning, owing to the lack of a ready supply of replacement parts and training in maintenance.

• The methods of water demand management in use include administrative allocations of water (by far the most common mechanism in use in the developing world today), user-based allocation systems controlled by users, market allocation of tradable water rights, joint allocation by users and governmental agencies (as through watershed 'parliaments') and individual allocational decisions made by owners of infrastructure.

• The rules for pricing irrigation water vary widely, within and between countries. The rules for setting prices are neither systematic nor uniform. The only consistent feature of irrigation prices is that they usually are well below the cost of supplying the water. The recovery of operating costs through irrigation prices ranges from around 20% to a high of around 75%.

• Experience has shown that farmers may be willing to pay more for it provided that the supply is reliable. This is a major caveat that often is not satisfied in gravity-fed systems.

• For irrigation water, price does not play the normal role of equilibrating supply and demand, except in the case of markets for water rights, which so far have had limited applicability. Accordingly, in most cases, the justification for the level of this price must be different than that of balancing supply and demand.

• There are five fundamental reasons for setting the price of irrigation water at an appropriate (which usually means higher) level. The first three reflect societal concerns for the utilization of a scarce resource and the last two, fiscal concerns. They are as follows:

(i) To stimulate the conservation of water.

(ii) To encourage the allocation of water to the most water-efficient crops, or to non-agricultural uses if water is more productive there in net terms, after allowing for inter-sectoral conveyance costs, provided that the infrastructure exists for delivery of the water to new users.

(iii) To minimize the environmental problems attendant upon irrigation, especially those arising from excessive use of water.

(iv) To generate enough revenues to cover operating and maintenance costs of irrigation systems so that, among other things, it would not be necessary to invest in expensive rehabilitation projects.

(v) To recover the original investment costs of each system, in addition to providing revenues for O & M costs.

It has been suggested that the optimal level of irrigation pricing is that which the irrigators themselves judge adequate to maintain and operate their system, with each paying what he/she would prefer the others to pay. It may be difficult to raise irrigation charges when the producers are very poor (and female-headed households tend to figure among the poorest). However, since irrigation systems are not sustainable without cost recovery, there is a persuasive argument that irrigation fees are not an appropriate policy instrument for addressing the needs of the rural poor, and in any case irrigated farms almost always generate incomes above those of the poorest rural strata. The opportunity price of water in non-agricultural uses is usually substantially higher than even a price required to cover irrigation O & M costs. For this reason, when the price of irrigation water is established by water markets, it usually turns out to be higher than if established by governmental agencies or users' associations.

There is a fundamental difference between a market-determined price for water and a decreed price: if the price rises because of demand for water, as transmitted through markets for water rights, then farmers can be beneficiaries of the price rise, by selling their water rights. Obviously, they will do so only if the resulting net annual income is greater than that attained by cultivating the land. On the other hand, administered price increases for irrigation water represent economic losses for them.

Pricing based on the area irrigated is the most commonly used, but systems based on the volume of water are more efficient and are gaining ground. Improvements in irrigation design can assist the implementation of volumetric pricing.

Markets in water rights have been implemented in some countries. They are not yet widespread but they have demonstrated significant advantages in promoting more efficient use of water without penalizing farmers economically. Their implementation requires appropriate legal and institutional frameworks to safeguard return flows and other aspects of third-party rights. Informal water rights markets tend to arise in conditions of water scarcity, and they have been found to exist in places as diverse as Brazil, Mexico, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Yemen. Legal recognition and formalization of such markets can improve their functioning and provide necessary protection to the environment and third parties.

Water rights markets do not function like most other kinds of markets. The conditions of competition - many buyers and sellers - usually are not fulfilled, and transactions require approval from various groups, from water user associations in Chile and Mexico to state governments in the Western United States. Beneficial as they are, water rights markets are not a panacea and their implementation requires fulfillment of several prerequisites, including the following: designation of how water is allocated during times of scarcity; ensuring that the initial allocation of water rights is fair; having a water management technology that permits reallocations; having a strong water users' association; defining appropriate roles for regulatory authorities and regulating the treatment of third-party rights; disseminating information on how water rights markets work; and the political will to carry out the implementation of the new system. Establishing an appropriate institutional structure for allocating water is a fundamental role of social policy for any nation, and it is critical to the functioning of irrigation systems. Improvement in irrigation performance depends on good governance. There are four main elements of governance which can be considered at national and local levels: the legitimacy of government; its accountability; its competence; and its respect for human rights and the rule of law. There is agreement that strengthening institutional capacities requires wide participation at all levels of decision-making and at all stages in the process, including in policy formulation and project design.

• The financial autonomy of public irrigation agencies is important, as is greater training of their staff and improved communications with irrigators. Water allocation decisions should be devolved to the lowest levels possible, and that usually means leaving at least some alloca-tional decisions in the hands of water user' associations.

• A problem with public sector water management in many countries is the fragmentation of responsibilities. An integrated institutional approach functions better except for the requirement for a clear separation between the roles of defining water policy and providing (or co-ordinating the provision of) water services.

• Putting local water management in the hands of water users' associations (WUAs) usually results in more efficient system management (lower costs) and a greater commitment to maintenance of the system - although sometimes necessary rehabilitation is deferred because of its costs. WUAs also perform a conflict-resolution role. However, devolving O & M responsibilities to WUAs almost always means farmers pay more for their irrigation.

• There are many thousands of water users' associations throughout the world and they are considered a sine qua non for the effective functioning of irrigation systems. Much experience has been accumulated on how to form them and train them, and how to define their relations with government agencies. Deciding upon government and WUA responsibilities for system rehabilitation is a crucial issue in the transfer of system management to users. In addition, it has been found more effective to form the WUAs before systems are built and to involve the associations in the design of the systems.

• An important operational question is defining the division of responsibility between WUAs and government agencies. Experiences range from complete ownership and control by WUAs to complete ownership and control by government. The main options have been summarized as follows: full agency control; agency O & M, user input; shared management; WUA O & M; WUA ownership, agency regulation; full WUA control.

• The degree of control by WUAs is usually greater in smaller systems and in the distributaries or sub-systems of larger systems, while either government agencies or federations of WUAs typically control the operation of main channels in large systems.

• A useful operational rule is that control should pass to irrigators, in WUAs and possibly federations of WUAs, at the point in the system below which the only use of water is irrigation.

• Some important preconditions for farmer participation in irrigation management include the following: joining community organizers and engineers in teams in order to integrate social and technical activities; involving farmers in all project activities from the very beginning, thereby strengthening their organizational skills; modifying irrigation agency policies and procedures that hinder farmer participation; and allowing enough time for farmers to organize themselves before new construction activity.

• Other important guidelines for developing and supporting WUAs include the following: recognition that WUAs are stronger if they can build on existing patterns of co-operation; defining membership to include all stakeholders, including tenants and women; ensuring that benefits to farmers of participation outweigh the costs of participation; institution of a supportive policy and legal environment; ensuring that public irrigation agencies carry out their corresponding responsibilities effectively; and as mentioned earlier, clarifying the government's role in supporting the costs of system rehabili tation. Government assurances in this last regard often are critical for the formation and successful functioning of WUAs.

• Gender bias is widespread in both design and operation of irrigation system. Overcoming it requires not only sensitization of irrigators but also of irrigation agency staff. Women need to be involved in the planning of irrigation systems from the beginning, and system designs need to take account of the differences between agricultural tasks typically performed by women and men. Gender analyses need to be carried out before projects are designed, and women's groups need to be involved in design and management processes for the systems.

• Irrigation can play a strong force for raising the incomes of rural poor and of smallholders in general if it is targeted on those groups. Normally, a subsidy will be required for the construction cost of systems for smallholders, but not for meeting the annual O & M costs. Chile has implemented a program of irrigation investments for smallholders, through competitive bidding among proposals, in which construction costs are paid only when the system has been shown to be functioning as planned. With innovative programs of this nature, irrigation can play an important role in poverty reduction and rural development.


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