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LESSONS:

Second Irrigation Systems Improvement Project

sector: Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Rural Development | country: Philippines

Future performance of the irrigation systems will largely depend on improvements in farmers’ water management. Better water management, in conjunction with a move toward improved varieties of rice and more extensive adoption of higher-value cash crops, will further increase farmers’ income beyond present levels. Future irrigation project investments will need, therefore, to address adequately (and integrate into project design) agricultural extension services and demonstration of improved agricultural technologies. Beyond optimal and continuously adapted engineering solutions, better water management in the long term requires the collective effort of the community rather than a focus only on farmers’ individual interests. Better water management should be based on the principle of social inclusiveness so as to minimize any conflicts in the community.

The Second Irrigation Systems Improvement Project (ISIP-II) helped to create the Farmer Irrigators’ Service Cooperatives (FISCOs), thereby encouraging strong beneficiary participation in Project implementation and managing the irrigation systems beyond the duration of the Project. The FISCOs were an evolving institutional mechanism intended to spearhead communal efforts toward improved water management, but they generally did not demonstrate the required effectiveness. For instance, the FISCOs could not get all farmers in the target service areas to dig the necessary ditches to their fields. Nor were the FISCOs able to get full cooperation on water rotation. Many farmers within the service areas were not members of the FISCOs. Consequently, irrigation service fee (ISF) collections were relatively low despite some modest improvements made through ISIP-II. In addition, the Project did not provide the necessary clarity as to the capacity building of the FISCOs and the retention of acquired expertise. Fortunately, some FISCOs performed well and constitute examples of relative success. They are expected to continue to work toward improved local irrigation management.

Most FISCOs were not given full responsibility. The perceived weakness of the FISCOs was seen as a reason not to increase their responsibilities. As a result, no change is forthcoming. It may be time for the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to hand over local-level management to the FISCOs (however weak they are perceived to be). Such action perhaps would force the FISCOs into effective action. Some incentive would need to be provided to encourage the FISCOs to enlarge the area that benefits from irrigation within their service areas. Otherwise members who already receive water may resist providing water to farmers who do not yet benefit from the system. Perhaps the prospect of a greater amount of resources from ISF collections on more irrigated land could provide such an incentive. This would hopefully help to develop among the FISCO members a stronger sense of belonging and shared responsibility for managing the irrigation systems.

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