Farmers above the outlet: irrigators and canal management in South Asia
In developing and studying farmers' participation on canal irrigation systems in South Asia, both government programmes and social science research have concentracted their attention at the field level. Often the aim has been to induce farmer participation to distribute water, maintain watercourses, and resolve conflicts, all below the outlet. But in practice, much of irrigators' spontaneous collective action is found not below but above the outlet, in territory which is formally the domain of official irrigation management organisations. This spontaneous action is most common among tailenders, and takes forms such as fact-finding, local negotiation, lobbying, appropriating guarding, operating controis, construction, water capture and maintenance. Through these activities, groups seek to assure themselves a better water supply. Manageriaily, the physical araa above the outlet is often a no person's land or "jungle" in which groups actively compete when water is scarce unpredictable or untimely. Securing a better water supply is so important to irrigators that their spontaneous collective action can demonstrate impressive degrees of organisation, cohesion and leadership, and excludes partisan politics. An alternative to spontaneous action is formal joint management (FJM) by irrigation staff and farmers. This has been developed more in Sri Lanka than Pakistan or India. FJM can take the form of large open meetings of officials and farmers at project or subproject level, of channel or zonal committees, and of project-level committees. Farmers' participation and Joint committees which have been evolved on the Minipe and Gal Oya projeets in Sri Lanka offer a promising approch. For the future, questions indude how major an opportunity FJM presents for improving canal irrigation performance in South Asia, and in what conditions and how it con and should be promoted.