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7. Irrigation assistance service

7.1 Planning for the irrigation assistance
7.2 Objectives and main types of irrigation assistance at the farm level
7.3 Irrigation practices improvement
7.4 On-farm development
7.5 Tertiary canal system improvement
7.6 Manpower requirements

The introduction of permanent irrigation facilities should result in change from traditional rainfed agriculture - often at subsistence level - to commercial agriculture. This substantial change is unlikely to be accomplished unless the following conditions are met:

a. the water is distributed at the appropriate time and equitably by the physical system;

b. the farm has the necessary physical conditions to receive the water and use it efficiently; and, above all:

c. the farmer knows how much water to apply and when, and is familiar with the practices of irrigated agriculture.

A timely and equitable distribution of the water is not found as often as desirable. Besides the causes mentioned in Chapters 5 and 6 for the main systems, many irrigation schemes have serious deficiencies in the so called 'tertiary canal system' or 'watercourses' from which originate large water losses and uneven distribution. The rehabilitation of these canals together with an improvement in their O&M can bring substantial benefits in terms of greater water availability and better distribution. Most of the rehabilitation work can be done by the farmers or with their cooperation, but some technical guidance and supervision are needed. The establishment of suitable organizational arrangements for the proper O&M of these systems or courses is usually most difficult and time-consuming.

On-farm development work is frequently left to the farmers' initiative and is his own responsibility. However, in most cases, this is not a simple undertaking that can be carried out without any financial and technical help. If this happens, the result is often that farms are poorly prepared to apply the irrigation water which leads to severe water wastage and low crop production.

Last but not least is the question of the farmer's knowledge or experience in irrigated agriculture. The path to irrigated agriculture, for a farmer who has practised rainfed farming all his life, can be long and financially painful, if he is left to his own devices and to the "trial and error" method of learning. The process can be shortened and made less hazardous if a suitable irrigation technology is available (but this may require some applied research trials) and it can be transferred to the farmer's field.

For reasons of uniformity and simplicity, this chapter has been entitled "Irrigation Assistance Service" giving, perhaps, the idea that there is always a Service or Unit at the scheme level to undertake any assistance necessary for the farmer to make full use of the irrigation water. Although this is the thesis advocated in many instances, it is not always desirable or possible. The different organizational patterns for this assistance, as well as their main characteristics, are discussed below.

Irrigation assistance at the farm level is a relatively new approach (with one or two decades of existence) and few countries have attempted it. The observations made in the text are the result of a brief exposure to some of these experiences and therefore tend to be of a more general nature than those of former chapters. A much deeper study of the subject is needed to establish more conclusive recommendations and suggestions.

7.1 Planning for the irrigation assistance

The establishment of an Irrigation Assistance Service in any of its possible organizational forms is not a traditional element of the management of an irrigation scheme and therefore the first step in planning its implementation is to demonstrate that there is a need for it. The best way to do this is to carry out detailed studies to determine the deficiencies in the irrigation schemes, their origins and possible solutions.

Once the problems have been properly identified, the corrective measures can be costed and the possible benefits more easily evaluated. For instance, the PLAMEPA (On-farm Improvement Plan) of Mexico identified that 350000 farmers needed assistance and that physical improvements were needed over 1.5 million hectares; based on these data the cost of the programme was estimated at US$ 770 million for a duration of 7 years; the farmers' benefits were expected to increase by US$ 840 million/year. The preparation of the Plan took several years but it was financially attractive and funding was not difficult to obtain.

This example illustrates two important points: the necessity for investment in serious studies and surveys, and the need to demonstrate the programme's financial attractiveness - evidenced not only by the Mexican experience, but corroborated by similar undertakings in Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Regarding studies aimed at demonstrating the need for assistance, the following points should be taken into account, with others relevant to the situation:

i. Surveys are required to determine the farmer's competence in irrigation practices and the need for training. Sociological surveys will also be needed to determine the possibilities of involving him in the improvements to be made as well as the organizational aspects relating to the future O&M of the watercourse. Special care should be taken that the sociological surveys result in practical and viable application.

ii. Evaluating the physical improvements (tertiary canal improvements, small hydraulic structures, land levelling, irrigation methods, etc.) is relatively easy and expeditious, when appropriate technical information exists (detailed topographical maps, aerial photos, etc.) but even when such information is not available, a survey can be made in a reasonably short time.

iii. Much more complex and time-consuming are surveys to determine the efficiency of water use at the farm level. They should be undertaken for a complete irrigation season at least (under the assumption that it is climatologically representative of the average conditions). In order to know the amounts of water consumed annually, it is indispensable to set measuring devices at the farm intake. Installing them and checking on consumption is a time-consuming operation. The problem is obviously simplified in schemes where such devices are part of the irrigation network.

iv. Determination of benefits - the conventional way is to determine the total amount of water saved and calculate the number of additional hectares that could be irrigated; the gains arising from those additional hectares are the benefits of the programme. A more technically sound method consists of evaluating the effect of the additional water on each of the main crops. For this exercise the water-yield response curves for each crop must be known, which is usually a bottleneck because they are seldom available for the site specific conditions.

7.2 Objectives and main types of irrigation assistance at the farm level

The main areas where irrigation assistance at the farm level is needed are:

- advice to farmers on how to improve their irrigation practices and to establish irrigated crops;

- assistance to farmers in improving the farm layout;

- encouragement for farmers to organize themselves into groups for the operation and maintenance of the tertiary systems and their improvement when needed.

A potential Irrigation Assistance Service (IAS) can therefore be engaged in numerous different activities depending on the particular needs of the irrigation scheme. In countries where on-farm developments are somewhat disregarded, the tendency should be for the IAS to concentrate first on designing a suitable farm layout and supervising its construction; and then at the second stage, to give greater weight to assistance on irrigation practices. In countries where the on-farm layout is part of the whole irrigation development process, the emphasis should be on helping the farmer to use suitable irrigation techniques, particularly scheduling of the irrigation water. Lastly, in irrigation schemes constructed long ago where experience is good with irrigated agriculture and the farm layouts are appropriate, the greater need would be to identify the areas where rehabilitation of the tertiary system is necessary, followed by better organization of the farmers to distribute the water and operate the system. There are also other instances in which all these factors (farm layout, irrigation practices and tertiary canal system) may be satisfactory and there is no reason for an IAS, in which case, but this is unfortunately the rarest, ad hoc traditional extension services may suffice to cover the needs of the farmers, provided that they have staff knowledgeable on water issues.

Therefore irrigation assistance at the farm level can be channelled in the three ways already mentioned and which, for reasons of easy reference, can be called:

i. irrigation practices improvement;
ii. on-farm development;
iii. tertiary canal system improvement.

This classification merely allows for greater clarity in the presentation of the text, but in practice various combinations of the three are found.

There is, however, an important difference between assistance for "irrigation practices" and the other two. The assistance for irrigation practices does not require funding other than that necessary to pay for the staff and their working means, since the main activity is the transfer of knowledge. The other two types do require substantial funds to undertake the development works either on the farm or outside it. Although farmers can contribute a great deal to this kind of work with their own working means and funds, some financial support is also needed from the Central Government in the form of credit facilities or materials, equipment and the like. These main types are discussed below.

7.3 Irrigation practices improvement

7.3.1 Main activities
7.3.2 Organizational alternatives

7.3.1 Main activities

Maximum or optimum crop production can only be attained by applying the right amount of water at the right time. Deviation from this golden rule inevitably leads to decreases in crop production. The amount of water required is determined by the evapotranspiration rate of the crop. The timing depends on the soil's characteristics and the rooting depth of the crop. Farmers, through years of observation and learned tradition, develop irrigation practices that are often very close to the actual needs of the crop. However, every time that a farmer tries a new crop, a time-consuming learning process starts and, until the moment when a satisfactory level of skill is reached, a considerable crop production potential may have been wasted. Farmers are aware of this problem and it is one of the reasons why they are often reluctant to plant crops with which they do not have previous experience. This is a characteristic problem of newly established irrigation schemes where most of the farmers have little or no experience with irrigated crops. Technical advice can be instrumental in shortening this learning process and accelerating the beginning of the "full production" stage of the project.

Good irrigation practices include not only questions related to when and how much water is to be applied, but also the application of suitable irrigation and drainage methods, the establishment of cropping patterns, the management of poor quality water and soils.

The introduction of suitable irrigation methods is an important point that is intimately related to the need for appropriate land development work (usually grading) and will therefore be treated in greater detail under the next type of assistance. There is great interest among many farmers in the potential of some of the recently developed methods: drip, mini-sprinklers, sprinklers, mechanized systems, etc. Technical advice on the suitability of these irrigation methods to a specific farm situation can be instrumental in saving labour and investment.

The benefits of a rational cropping pattern are known to be many, but where water 1 s scarce they are still more relevant. In cases where farmers are allocated limited amounts of water, careful selection of the crops and the planting time may lead to dramatic increases in the planted area.

Poor water quality can affect crop production significantly, through soil salinization and other associated problems. The negative effects of poor water quality can be minimized or greatly increased, depending on the agricultural and irrigation practices used and the drainage system. The following example may illustrate the point: if salinity is a problem, the common practice of planting seeds in the centre of a single-row raised bed will place the seed exactly in the area where salts concentrate (FAO 1976). A double-row raised planting bed will offer a considerable advantage. Alternate furrow irrigation may also help; and there are other alternatives. Most farmers will understand that salinity is affecting their production but would be uncertain of the irrigation practice that would help to solve or mitigate their problem.

Irrigation practices can be strongly influenced by the soil physical characteristics. Highly impermeable soils require special techniques to make irrigation effective. Frequent irrigation is needed for them, while poorly permeable soils can be irrigated with longer intervals. However, they may crack on the surface causing severe damage to young plants. Suitable agricultural practices (e.g. harrowing) may be needed in combination with good irrigation practices (such as preplanting irrigation).

The foregoing implies that the staff dealing with this type of assistance should have the necessary technical knowledge to answer any questions that may arise from the introduction of new crops in a new irrigated area or when improving production in an existing one. In areas or countries with a good tradition of irrigation, this knowledge is often available and is only a question of demonstrating to the farmers the suitability of adopting certain practices. However, as many countries have only a short experience in irrigation or it is limited to particular areas of the country, the IAS technical staff may not have access to factual data on the new intended crops. Normally it is the responsibility of research institutions to undertake such investigations, but they are often involved in more scientific research and are sited at centralized locations. The establishment of some kind of applied research farm at the project location, operated by a research institution, will probably encounter logistic and financial problems. Consequently, some public irrigation schemes establish their own applied research or demonstration farms, or they may do it in cooperation with research institutions, where the behaviour of newly irrigated crops can be monitored and the data used to provide essential information to irrigation extensionists.

The establishment of one of these farms does not necessarily imply another financial burden on the public administration or the users, because if the farm is of a suitable size and it is well managed, it can be self-sustaining from its own produce. There is another point in their favour: the use of such farms to train the local farmers in a newly irrigated area cannot be overemphasized.

7.3.2 Organizational alternatives

Assistance on irrigation practices is in theory covered by the extension services functioning on a national or regional scale. However, in most instances, these services are overloaded with work; they are limited in their financial resources, and frequently their staff do not have suitable training on irrigation matters. In most developing countries there is less than one extension agent per 2000 farmers. It is obvious from this figure that it is impossible to give adequate assistance to the farmers in irrigation practices, which require considerable attention and supervision by the agent especially during the first years of a newly irrigated area.

A more serious problem is the lack of proper technical training in irrigation matters. Most of the extension agents have a general training in agriculture, but no special training in irrigation techniques and practices. This is appropriate for the variety of duties they have to perform in areas where agriculture is rainfed but is not adequate for irrigated agriculture. The same applies to field assistants, who have only completed high school plus one or two years of training in general agriculture.

Furthermore, some of the newly introduced extension programmes, like the Training and Visit (T&V) system, are not well suited to demonstrating the advantages of improved water management practices. Because the establishment of plots to demonstrate good water management on the land of leading farmers needs close monitoring and supervision, the extension worker should be present in the area or village for several months (at least during the irrigation season). This is contrary to the T&V system which requires that the extension staff travel regularly among pre-established villages/areas within a fortnightly rotation. A system with a rigid schedule is not suited to providing advice on the irrigation activities mentioned above.

Perhaps as a result of the difficulties encountered in many countries to convey some irrigation assistance to the farmers through traditional extension services, different strategies have emerged. Some of the most relevant examples are cited.

i. National/regional plans for improved water use

This is the case of PLAMEPA (Plan de Mejoramiento Parcelario), established in Mexico in the early seventies, whose main purpose was to improve water use in the irrigation schemes. The basic methodology of the plan was that surveys were made in each irrigation scheme to determine which farmers were using the water properly and which not. It was found that more than 40 percent of the farmers were using too much or too little water. Specially trained irrigation extension staff concentrated their work with those farmers. Key farmers were provided with detailed irrigation schedules, improved irrigation methods and cropping patterns which were supposed to be followed strictly during the first year. These farmers were strategically selected so that results should become apparent to surrounding ones.

The Plan was most successful during its functional period, but it has been reported that, once the irrigation staff moved away from the project area, farmers often reverted to previous malpractices.

This emphasizes the views expressed in this text that IAS should be attached to projects on a long-term basis rather than on the medium term (2-3 years) of national programmes. Good reasons may be advanced for decreasing the staff allocated to this function after the first few years when greater effort is needed, but assistance should continue afterwards to consolidate the initial results obtained.

ii. Irrigation scheduling services

In industrialized countries, where the educational level of farmers is higher, farms are well prepared for the application of irrigation water and farmers have acquired a certain degree of skill in handling irrigation water, so the irrigation assistance tends to concentrate on irrigation scheduling.

A typical example is the IMS (Irrigation Management Service) of the Bureau of Reclamation in the USA which was established in 1969 and provides weekly irrigation scheduling information to farmers. The system uses the crop and soil data provided by the farmer and meteorological information. All the data are processed by computers and passed back to the farmer via telephone or postal services. Similar services are available in the irrigation areas of the South of France (Bas-Rhone and Provence) and in the West of Spain (Badajoz) on an experimental basis.

Such services tend to be established on a regional basis, which also applies to the irrigation areas, in order to serve a maximum number of farmers with a minimum of staff. But they can also be organized on a project area basis, providing it is sufficiently large.

iii. Project area based units

In order to provide proper assistance on irrigation practices, a close dialogue is necessary between the farmer and the irrigation extensionist. Hence, a considerable number of staff is needed, especially during the initial stages of the work. Under these conditions, the establishment of an Irrigation Assistance Service as part of the project organization appears logistically justified. It is also preferable that such a Unit or Service depend hierarchically on the Project Manager in order to guarantee unity of command. But this is not always possible because the irrigation extensionist may not come from the same institution or ministry as the O&M staff.

As already mentioned, Mexico has made considerable efforts to improve the use of water at the farm level not only under the PLAMEPA but also under subsequent programmes of the SARH (Secretaría de Agricultura y Recursos Hidráulicos) such as SAM (Sistema Alimentario Mexicano). Their experience in irrigation assistance indicates that a field irrigation worker (secondary education with agricultural training) can assist 300-500 farmers and that a group of 3 to 5 field irrigation workers should be supervised and guided by an extensionist (high-school education with special training in irrigated agriculture).

Irrigation assistance can be integrated with a more general type of agricultural extension. In fact, in the case of Mexico, the irrigation field workers are in a team with the agricultural extension workers and are supervised by a general extensionist who has been well trained in irrigated agriculture, thus ensuring a good combination of agricultural and irrigation practices.

There is no reason why assistance with irrigation practices cannot be undertaken by extension personnel, provided that the following conditions are met:

a. the number of irrigation agents in the irrigated areas is drastically increased compared to those in rainfed areas;

b. the staff has the requisite knowledge of irrigation practices;

c. the staff is attached on a more or less permanent basis to the irrigation area;

d. suitable working means (transport, etc.) are given them to undertake their functions.

7.4 On-farm development

7.4.1 Main activities
7.4.2 Land grading or levelling
7.4.3 Organizational alternatives

All the structural work to be done within the boundaries of a farm is (theoretically) the farmer's responsibility. However, carrying it out implies that the farmer has considerable technical knowledge and the financial resources necessary. Unfortunately such a case is more the exception than the rule.

The question is therefore to what extent the public administration should engage itself in the provision of on-farm facilities. Some countries tend to have a paternalistic approach and provide all the facilities as part of the irrigation development while others provide none of them. Neither of the two approaches seems to render satisfactory results, so a medium solution would seem to be the answer. The government must stimulate the farmer to carry out the improvements necessary on his farm by providing some technical and financial assistance but only if the farmer is willing to reciprocate with his own available means.

It has been found that with a fully paternalistic approach, a positive interest may be apparent during the first years but is likely to deteriorate thereafter because the farmer will tend to consider the assistance received as a government obligation and not something which results from his own efforts and therefore he must work to maintain. Any irrigation assistance programme aimed at improving on-farm physical facilities must be carried out in close cooperation and agreement with the farmer; otherwise, efforts are likely to be wasted.

7.4.1 Main activities

Before any on-farm development assistance takes place, a brief review should be made of the elements that constitute the farm layout. They may already exist or have to be added, depending on the complexity desired. The elements of the farm layout are the following in the most complex case:

i. intake (one or several),

ii. head-farm ditches,

iii. water retention structures (checks),

iv. land preparation for the irrigation method (furrow, border, basin, contour furrows, contour border), and related land grading,

v. drains collecting tail water,

vi. farm drains,

vii. location and layout of the family orchard,

viii. fences (mainly in case of livestock),

ix. watering facilities for livestock,

x. tail water ponds and reuse facilities.

If the house is located within the farm:

xi. location of the house and distribution of farm dependencies,
xii. access to the house,
xiii. water supply and sanitation.

To improve the irrigation and drainage layout of the farm and to prepare for suitable land grading, the following actions must be taken:

a. the farmer's concurrence sought for any works to be done,

b. detailed topographic survey made of the farm (scale 1:1000),

c. data collected on soil characteristics and intended cropping pattern,

d. the future layout designed in full cooperation with the farmer,

e. the planned work should be undertaken as far as possible with the farmer's working means, or else with the machinery of the programme.

A bottleneck in these programmes arises from the discrepancy in interest between tenants and owners. Although tenants are usually interested in the programme, they are not willing to contribute to it because, they argue, the improvements remain for the owner. Conversely, owners are unwilling to contribute since they tend to believe that the benefits from the improvements are enjoyed mostly by the tenants. Various compromises can be worked out, depending on the predominant characteristics of the leasing contract. Nevertheless, the problem merits particular attention before initiating a programme of this nature.

In most cases, on-farm developments can be reduced to two essential elements: relocation of irrigation and drainage ditches, - land grading or levelling.

These elements are interdependent and can hardly be separated in practice. In view of their greater importance the rest of the text refers basically to them.

7.4.2 Land grading or levelling

Land grading is the movement of earth necessary to obtain a perfectly uniform inclined plane and land levelling is for a horizontal plane, although both terms are used interchangeably. This operation is indispensable in surface irrigation to obtain a uniform application of the water. Even very flat areas may need some land grading in order to provide uniform slopes. Of course, the more irregular the topography, the more expensive the operation.

Land grading is not an operation that is intuitively attractive to farmers. Furthermore, it is usually expensive and, if not done with great care, productive top soil can be removed leading to a decrease in productivity in affected areas for a few years. Therefore, in order to make the operation attractive to farmers, it is imperative that some sizeable incentive be offered. A common way is that 50 percent of the costs are absorbed by the public administration.

Land grading work is most easily executed during the construction of an irrigation scheme because there is no interference with agriculture, and legal problems are minimal. Execution of a grading programme after the system is operating is a complex undertaking. The operation must be done during the fallow period which is usually very short on irrigated land. This is one of the reasons for the tendency to use machinery rather than labour for land grading. Experience shows that the work can be effected by labour, but productivity is low due to the long transport distances, and much supervision is needed.

7.4.3 Organizational alternatives

On-farm development work for irrigation is carried out in a few countries by the public administration and normally in connection with land settlement projects. The farmer may be asked to repay some, or all, of the cost involved over a period of time. This approach will not be discussed here since the chapter concentrates on the types of action that a government may take when no such work exists.

The more general case is that on-farm development work is left to the farmers' initiative. Though most farmers make some effort to improve their farms, what they achieve may not be sufficient to ensure efficient application of water. The two main alternatives for government action to bring irrigation norms up to standard are discussed below.

One approach assumes that the farmer has some interest in doing the necessary improvement works on his farm, but he is not highly motivated nor has he the necessary means (equipment, time, technical knowledge) to undertake them; therefore substantial financial and technical assistance will need to be provided by the government in order to influence the farmer's decision. In practice, the public administration does all the work in consultation with the farmer and he pays part of the corresponding cost or, very rarely, the full amount. This approach has been called 'On-farm Development by the Public Sector'.

The other approach implies that the farmer is interested and capable of doing the improvement work on the farm. He only needs some financial help from the government for construction material that is not easily available within his own community such as cement, iron, etc., and some technical guidance for the particularly difficult jobs. This has been called 'On-farm Development by the Farmer'.

Both approaches have pros and cons. Either can be suitable depending on the conditions prevailing in the farming community and the level of socio-economic development in the country. The following examples may illustrate the point: a farmer owning a sizeable farm (10 hectares for instance) is likely to have some financial status and he probably operates with his own or hired agricultural machinery. Such a farmer is likely to be highly receptive to a government programme that offers improvement to his farm at bargain price, particularly if he knows that the government has the necessary financial resources and that the programme is likely to be executed within a reasonable time.

On the other hand, a farmer owning a small farm (0.3 ha for instance, as in many Far East and Asian regions) and living near subsistence level, cannot commit any funds to repay improvement works on his farm. However, he would probably be willing to devote his surplus labour time to the improvement work provided that he is instructed how to do the work and that he receives some financial incentive (e.g. food for work, construction material, etc.). He is also likely to be more stimulated if he sees his work as part of a common endeavour with all the farming community participating in similar activities.

As a first approximation, it can be concluded that the 'public' approach is more suitable for middle income farmers where the size of the irrigated farms generates a reasonably good income, while the 'farmers' approach is better for low income farmers where the size of the average irrigated farm is small. The approaches are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary, they can be combined although there are not many cases.

i. On-farm development by the public sector

It usually takes the form of a national programme with a good degree of financial and institutional autonomy. The area to be covered during the life-span of the programme is well defined and so are the priority regions and areas to be covered annually. Though execution often tends to lag behind the planned figures, the main targets are generally met. Any work undertaken must be at the request of the farmer since it concerns his land. It is a good practice to sign a contract between the farmer and the administration establishing clearly the responsibilities of each side, and the method of recovering agreed costs from the farmer, though this sometimes poses problems.

The main limitation of the programmes is their considerable cost, which in many developing countries is associated with high foreign currency costs.

The programme is rarely undertaken in isolation from the on-farm work. More frequently it is associated with training in irrigation practices and improvements to the tertiary canal systems. When it is concentrated on on-farm development, the leading component is land levelling. In any case, the staffing of the programme must include topographic surveyors, machinery operators and contractor supervisors, agricultural engineers, mechanical engineers, irrigation engineers and 'promoters' of the programme (Table 8).

The programme generally concentrates its efforts on a particular region, the size of which depends on the available resources and work proceeds for one or two years until more or less completed, at which time the team moves to the next priority area where the process is repeated. A corps of staff and machinery may be left at the first location for completion and repair works.

Once the scheme has been completed, the upkeep of the work is sometimes deficient owing to the farmer not having been directly involved in the design and execution stages.

ii. On-farm development by the farmer

The basic idea behind this approach is that there is great labour potential in the farming communities of some irrigation schemes, which is not fully utilized because of the small size of farms. In these circumstances, it is pointless to bring in earth moving machinery and to add a financial burden to the farmer. On the contrary, a programme aimed at improving his farm must rely mostly on his capacity to undertake the work with his own labour and draught animals. Such a programme entails intensive preliminary promotion to encourage the farmer to do the work and strong technical support during the operation.

If land grading is to be executed by the farmer, a considerable amount of supervision and preparatory work is necessary. Furthermore, it can happen that the farmer is unable to undertake the work during the agreed period, in which case all the preparatory work must be repeated during the next season.

For these reasons any public administration willing to support such activities will have to ensure that it has:

a. specially trained staff to undertake the promotional work;
b. sufficient technical staff for the technical supervision;
c. staff in the project area for several seasons.

These conditions and the need to work in close cooperation with the farmer often result in slow implementation which is the major drawback to this approach. However, the advantages are several: costs are reduced, available resources are fully utilized, imports are reduced and the farmer is intimately involved in the work; the latter results in better maintenance of the on-farm works.

This approach is particularly suited to be combined with training in irrigation practices by establishing an IAS that, during its first years, would undertake the guidance and supervision of the on-farm work and, once that was completed, would be responsible for irrigation extension activities.

7.5 Tertiary canal system improvement

7.5.1 Public sector approach
7.5.2 Participatory approach

Main systems are usually the responsibility of the public administration and the on-farm work a direct concern of the farmer. However, tertiary canal systems are often in no-man's-land as far as O&M responsibility is concerned (see Chapter 3), a situation which inevitably leads, in a short time, to a state of disrepair and unserviceability.

Improving a tertiary canal system implies basically two different tasks: one is the physical rehabilitation of the tertiary canal system and the other is the establishment of the institutional responsibility for the O&M of the canals thereafter. As in other instances, the physical improvements can be attained without major problems but to ensure the appropriateness of the works to the farmers' needs and their effective functioning afterwards is a much more complex matter. An institutional solution that is being tried out with relative success in several Far Eastern and Asian countries is the establishment of water users' associations for each tertiary canal.

Two main approaches are being followed for the establishment of these associations; one favours strong government action with the farmers being the somewhat inactive recipients of the government initiative, while the other tries to stimulate farmers into full participation in the planning and execution of the improvements and to take subsequent responsibility for the O&M of the tertiary canals. The second is often referred to as the "Participatory approach" so in contrast we have designated the first as the "Public sector approach".

7.5.1 Public sector approach

As in the case of on-farm development work, there is a centrally financed government programme to carry out the improvements and to establish the irrigation associations around the tertiary canals. A special office within the responsible government agency is often set up to execute the programme and it usually has a large degree of financial and operational autonomy.

A typical methodology for proceeding with this work is as follows:

a. selection of the tertiary canals to be rehabilitated in cooperation with local authorities;

b. formal establishment of the farmers' organization for the tertiary canals in question;

c. design by contractors of the new tertiary layout;

d. approval of the design by the tertiary canal farmers' organization;

e. construction work by the contractors;

f. approval of the work by the tertiary canal farmers' organization;

g. government staff assist the tertiary canal farmers' organization to take over the responsibility for O&M.

In many cases, the intense pressure to execute programmes in a short period means that consultation with farmers is inadequate. There is rarely time to establish the tertiary canal farmers' organization as an effective capable unit before consultation on design is due to take place. As a result, construction goes ahead and the new layout may bear little relation to the farmers' organizational requirements. The government agency concerned is then left with the unenviable task of persuading the farmers to operate and maintain a system which is regarded by many of them as the government's responsibility.

Some governments have begun to recognize that such programmes have limitations. A more participatory approach to the planning, design and rehabilitation of the tertiary system is likely to yield more lasting results, even though that very participation will slow down the pace of physical progress.

7.5.2 Participatory approach

In this alternative, the basic philosophy is that the farmers become responsible for the execution of the improvements and rehabilitation work, with some technical guidance and financial incentives provided by the public administration.

i. Promoting participation

Promoting the farmers' participation is the most difficult part of this approach. In areas where farmers are familiar with irrigation, the task is somewhat easier because they are already convinced of the benefits that equitable water distribution can bring them, although former government action may have accustomed them to the paternalistic approach.

The promotional efforts require considerable time and staff. Experience in the Philippines indicates that 6 to 9 months are needed before actual construction of new works or improvement to existing ones can commence. The method followed there is to send a community organizer or institutional officer to the village to identify the needs of the farmers through discussion with individuals, groups and local leaders. The officer is generally a young graduate from the area, familiar with the local situation and speaking the local language or dialect. He assists in the establishment of the Irrigation Association (IA) and in its legalization. Once it is established, he continues to guide and assist it for some time.

In Central Java (Indonesia), the irrigation associations, locally caled Dharma Tirta, are promoted by an extension worker at the village level, initially with small groups, until the different groups become conscious of the need for change. At this stage, visits are made to other successful Dharma Tirta in the region to help them visualize the benefits. The extension worker is of key importance in awakening a desire for change, and persuading the community that, by their own efforts, they can achieve a dramatic improvement in the productivity of their village lands. The extension worker sustains the self-confidence of the farmers 'by giving advice and, where necessary, by obtaining the help of skilled technicians and craftsmen from the public agencies concerned who assist the villagers to plan and implement the desired improvements to the tertiary irrigation system. During the construction period, the extension worker is at hand to provide any advice or supervision needed.

The village irrigation competition is another key factor in the success of the Dharma Tirta in Central Java. Very great popular interest is generated by this province-wide competition and the village associations are encouraged to draw on the technical support of extension staff for more improvements. About 30 villages enter this biennial event. The two best from each district go forward to the provincial level and the best two from each province then join a group of about 12 finalists. Criteria are judged as objectively as possible. Marks are awarded for:

a. organization and management, particularly the level of self help;
b. technical quality of the irrigation system;
c. operation and maintenance;
d. financial management and level of investment;
e. crop husbandry.

The winning village is entitled to a grant of about Rp 100000 per year (runners up Rp 90000) subject to ongoing improvements. The actual monetary value of the prize (US$ 170) is small beside the prestige enjoyed by the winning village which receives its award from the Province Governor.

ii. Establishment of the association

One typical problem that arises in the establishment of irrigation associations around the tertiary canals is whether the basis of the association is the command area of the tertiary canal or the villages that are under its command.

Where social ties among the people of one village are very strong or relations between villages not particularly good, there is little point in putting them together in the same association. In such cases, it would be advisable to have two, or more, irrigation associations (with some mechanism for exchange of information and coordination) within the tertiary canal area rather than a single association. Alternatively, when the tertiary canal layout is redesigned, consideration should be given to the possibility of serving each village's area with a tertiary canal.

The problem is particularly important in the 'participatory approach' since much of the promotional work is done through the village administrative and social structure, but the problem is also relevant to the so-called 'public sector approach' where the associations are established according to a fixed pattern without any possibility of deviating from existing rules.

However, particular care should be taken when establishing an association to preserve as far as possible the traditional social habits of the rural communities, if they are beneficial to the new situation. They should be carefully identified during the promotional period.

Chapter 3 and Annex I give some guidelines as to the establishment and functioning of the associations.

iii. Technical improvements

The basic idea is that farmers must finance most of the irrigation improvement works themselves and, where possible, participate in actual execution of the work. Lack of experience, combined with the technical difficulties occasionally lead to contracting part of the work to local small contractors. In certain cases, the government may provide some specialized machinery and material (e.g. in the Philippines) but the farmer has to reimburse the corresponding cost. Technical assistance from the concerned government agency is desirable. Quality control is sometimes done very effectively by farmers' committees.

Since the improvements are to be financed primarily by the beneficiaries, no work should be commenced until the new layout and respective cost are approved by the farmers' association. Successive improvements can be made as funds become available.

It is a good practice to give first priority to the construction of the association's physical premises because this helps to consolidate the concept of the association as an operative entity. In the case of the Dharma Tirta of Indonesia, high priority is given to the construction of a separate village turn out and the internal system is then rationalized. This may involve the consolidation of holdings, the construction of access roads, tertiary, quarternary canals, land levelling and the provision of farm turn outs.

As said earlier, it is sometimes difficult to separate on-farm improvements and those connected with the tertiary canals. In practice, this work is often carried out simultaneously in either of the approaches mentioned.

Promotion of the participatory approach and the execution of the work requires a considerable effort in terms of government staff, who must work at the local level. This is another argument in favour of establishing IAs at the project level or, if the projects are too small, at the district/province level.

7.6 Manpower requirements

There are large differences in manpower requirements and they depend on whether the Irrigation Assistance Service is for irrigation practices, on-farm development or tertiary canal improvement or any combination of them. The available data have been grouped, therefore, according to the cases described in the text and they are presented in Table 8. There may be cases where one type of assistance is applicable, or there may be cases where any combination of the three may apply. The staffing for irrigation assistance programmes also depends on the approach followed. Table 8 gives some indication of the kind of expertise needed, depending on whether the physical improvements are carried out by the public sector or the farmers. Due to the wide variation in complexity and circumstances of programmes, it does not seem practical to give job descriptions for the staff mentioned.



National/Regional Plans

Irrigation Scheduling Services

Project area based units

Number of farmers covered by one officer

(per year)2


on permanent basis

1. Irrigation practices improvement1



Field Irrigation Worker





Irrigation Extensionist





Agricultural Technician





Computer Operator/Programmer




2. On-farm Development

By Public Sector

By Farmer


Number of hectares per officer

2.1 Promotional efforts:




Communication Specialist



2.2 Design and Implementation of Works:




Irrigation Engineer (MSc)




Assistant Irrigation Engineer (BSc)








Assistant Topographer




Construction Supervisor








Credit Specialist




Irrigation Practices Specialist




Agricultural Technician



3. Tertiary Canal Improvement




By Public Sector

By Farmer

Hectare is covered per year

3.1 Promotional efforts:




Community Organizer



3.2 Design and Implementation of Works:




Irrigation Engineer




Assistant Engineer








Assistant Topographer




Construction Supervisor







1 Data refer only to the actual implementation of the plan and not to the studies needed for it.

2 The standard refers to the numbers of leading farmers with whom the officer deals directly. The area of influence is obviously greater.

3 One irrigation extensionist can supervise the work of 5-7 field irrigation workers. The standard therefore refers to the number of leading farmers supervised indirectly through the field extension worker.

4 There is a great variation in available figures. Actually the standards will depend greatly on the communication facilities and confidence of farmers in the system.

5 Large variations in standards depend on the amount of help needed by the farmers to undertake improvement work.

In general, the manpower requirements are greater when the Irrigation Assistance Service is established at the project level than when it is part of a national or regional plan. This appears to be a consequence of the need for greater care and attention when acting at local level.

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