Farmers’ Participation in Managing Water for Agriculture
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India is expected to face a water gap of around 750 billion cubic metre (BCM) by year 2030. Experts suggest that this gap can be solved with ‘improving agriculture’s water efficiency and productivity’ only.
The environmental setting of irrigated agriculture has two important components: (i) irrigation delivery from major and medium irrigation projects and all related activities are fully managed by the government, and (ii) the number of small and marginal landholdings is exponentially increasing which are not economically viable for irrigated agriculture. The National Water Policy and the state water policies have, therefore, provided for farmers’ participation in irrigation management, commonly known as ‘participatory irrigation management (PIM)’ through constitution of Water Users’ Associations (WUAs). The Water Users’ Associations are envisaged as empowered local institutions with an interface with irrigation, agriculture and other agencies to serve the farmers through system maintenance, water distribution, recovery of service charges and providing the advantage of ‘economy of scale’ in irrigated agriculture system, particularly for small landholders through collective action.
Currently, some 24 states of India have adopted the PIM approach partly or fully by enacting specific PIM Acts or amending existing irrigation acts to provide for constitution of Water Users’ Associations (WUAs). According to the latest estimates, 93,668 Water Users’ Associations (WUAs) have been formed in India, covering an area of 17.84 million ha. But the success of WUAs in handling irrigation management has been mixed.
The paper examines the reasons for success and failure of Water Users’ Associations in India and concludes that the lacklustre performance of WUAs is not because the idea is wrong, but because the people implementing the participatory irrigation management (often irrigation/water resources/command area departments) have not understood the process right. There is enormous potential for saving water and increasing productivity of land and water in agriculture through formation and strengthening of WUAs in India. The paper discusses the core principles of water management and change management for creating robust WUAs which can positively impact the water use efficiency and productivity on the field plots managed by large numbers of smallholder farmers.
KeywordsParticipatory irrigation management (PIM) Water User Association (WUA) Principles of water management Principles of change management Irrigated agriculture Water use efficiency
The author expresses his sincere thanks to his colleagues for valuable input and support during the course of preparation of the manuscript.