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Institutional diversity, market pressure and performance of irrigation systems: Comparative perspective in Nepal and Thailand

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Ganesh P. Shivakoti, Ram Chandra Bastakoti
Professor Ganesh P Shivakoti School of Environment, Resources and Development Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand Phone: +66 2 524 6369 Fax: +66 2 524 6431 Email:

Keyword(s): Institutions, Irrigation, Market, Performance, Nepal, Thailand
Article: Poster:
AbstractIn many Asian countries irrigation management is most important concern due to significant contribution of agriculture in their national economy. But the performance of irrigation sector is not satisfactory despite of efforts on irrigation development and management. In this context the assessment of institutional dynamics and its influence on performance of irrigation systems is of utmost importance. Some efforts have been made on institutional decomposition and analyzing institution-performance interaction at national level, the issues at system level remains unanswered. More importantly, those studies did not measure exogenous influencing factor explicitly. Some research focused on analysis of system level performance but did not consider the influence of institutional aspects. This paper aims to understand institutional dynamics and performance of irrigation systems amid the change in macro level political, economic and social settings in the country. Taking cases of Nepal and Thailand, both of which have a significantly large irrigation sector, we analyze these issues both at cross-national and intra-country level. We selected 50 irrigation systems from each country covering major river basins of both countries representing different ecological regions as well. Irrigation systems are selected based on three criteria; ecological region, economic characteristics and management structure. In Nepal the new irrigation policy brought out after the political changes of 1990 laid emphasis on participatory approach of irrigation management in the form of transfer of management responsibility from government to users. The result showed that with the changes in irrigation policy the management responsibility of many government built irrigation systems has been transferred to the users. The water users associations of traditional farmer managed irrigations systems are also registered formally to related authorities. In Thailand, government focused on building more irrigation capacity thus constructing large irrigation systems in many parts of the country. The result showed that after the adoption of participatory irrigation management policy government encouraged people’s participation in irrigation management. At present, users are directly involved in management of large irrigation systems at tertiary canal level. Similarly, traditional communal irrigation systems at northern Thailand received support for system infrastructure improvement including some interference in governance as well. It has been noted that market pressures and other related economic factors have significant influence on institutional arrangements. In Nepal the command areas of majority of irrigation systems include cereal-based subsistence agriculture with only few systems having commercial vegetable farming. But the market-led economy of Thailand has created condition for diversification in farming practices resulting into increased area under high water demanding commercial crops. The changing water demand scenario has ultimately influenced the collective action for irrigation systems management. Our observation implies that the broader policy changes have resulted into different institutional arrangements. Though the emphasis has been given to direct involvement of users in management, insufficient attention to the autonomy and unity of traditional irrigation systems and changing water demand scenario has significantly affected overall performance of irrigation systems. The economic, social and other external influencing factors are crucial in determining institutional arrangements which in-turn affects performance.
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