Up to the early 1980s, operations and maintenance for irrigation systems was highly centralised, but this was imposing an increasing institutional and financial burden on the government. Contributing factors were: very low ratio of billing and collection rates or no collection at all; very high water consumption, even wastage; no cost recovery for investment; and no local interest by the farmers to protect the infrastructure. Although some small irrigation schemes had been transferred to users over the years, the pace of change was slow.
After 1993, with the advice of the World Bank, an accelerated process of handing irrigation O&M over to Water User Associations has been undertaken. The recovery rate for O&M costs increased from less than 40% to more than 80% after the facilities had been handed over to water users’ organisations.
In addition, water overuse and consequent negative environmental impacts (eg salinity) have gradually decreased. The irrigation program that was a “government program with assistance of the farmers” became “a farmer program with assistance of the government”.
However, the reform has not been accompanied by appropriate legal reform which has caused some problems in investment and purchase of equipment. Furthermore, while water users associations must raise revenues from tariffs, the lack of legal basis has meant that incentive structures are weak.
Although there has not yet been a full evaluation of all aspects of the irrigation reform, a number of lessons emerge:
- Farmers and WUOs need continuing support and training to after the transfer to ensure sustainability
- Legal reforms should accompany institutional changes to enable full benefits to be gained
- Political will in government together with financial support are important for achieving major institutional change.
Importance of the case for IWRM
The case illustrates the role of participation and institutional reform in agricultural water use, and illustrates how the reform process can help water allocation in areas where there is competition for water between several economic sectors (agriculture, tourism, municipal water supply).
Photo credit: Wendy Schotsmans