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Community organizations in water resource governance: Rural-Urban interface of irrigation management in Thailand

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Ram Chandra Bastakoti, Ganesh P. Shivakoti
Ram Chandra Bastakoti Natural Resource Management FoS School of Environment, Resources and Development Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand Phone: +66 896998530 Fax: +66 2524 6431 Email:

Keyword(s): Social participation, Community-based organizations, irrigation, water governance, Thailand
AbstractThailand is among the rapidly growing economy in the world. In recent period, shifts have been towards industrial and urban sectors. However, agriculture still remains one of the important sectors of the economy. In the recent decades, the agriculture also has gone through transformations mostly influenced by economic growth and urbanization process. The shifts from traditional cereal based farming to more commercial cash crops is common phenomenon in most parts of the Thailand. Most notable changes were from rice production to vegetables, orchards, and other high water demanding cash crops. These changes have brought fierce competition in water use among various agricultural uses. Similarly, conflicts between different non- agricultural water uses in the major river basins are becoming more acute. Whenever there are conflicting interests in resource use, it has been documented in many cases that users come-up with a sort of collective action arrangements. This paper focuses on analyzing how community organizations are mediating with local people in management of water resources among various rural-urban uses in the context of changed farming systems composition brought by transformations in agricultural practices as the consequences of urbanization and economic growth. Taking the case of 50 irrigation systems from major river basins across different regions of Thailand, it has been documented that the cultivation of high water demanding commercial cash crops is growing over time. The most notable one was rapid increase in peri-urban vegetable productions along with some other cash crops. This has resulted into increased competition for water. The story does not end here. Rapid industrialization and urbanization in the pace of economic growth is another facet of the coin. The growth of housing estates in peri-urban fringes is increasing during recent decades. The expansion of modern residential estates has increased demand for water also. Similarly, the growth of tourism and increased demand for recreational services has increased the competition for water resources. In addition, the rapid expansion of industrial estate has also resulted into direct competition for water with agricultural uses. In these changed circumstances, it was found that the irrigation systems are struggling with adopting various coping strategies and negotiating with various competing users. Increased competition for water among various competitive users has caused various forms of conflicts. The extent of conflict in water use was higher in peri-urban areas compared to rural areas, having more competition with non- agricultural users. In such scenario, the presence of strong community organizations (WUAs) in rural areas has resulted into successful management of the conflict and they have adopted various coping strategies. In peri-urban areas also systems with the presence of relatively more autonomous WUAs are becoming successful in negotiation with the changed context. But it was also noted that lack of community organizations or relatively weaker WUAs (with more external influence) are not successful in managing the situation. Further in-depth research considering various factors of rural-urban water use dynamics and the specific roles of concerned stakeholders including community level organizations are needed.
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