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The meeting in brief

Fifty irrigation professionals gathered in Aurangabad, Maharashtra State, India, between 28 and 30 October 1998 to discuss and exchange ideas concerning the modernization of irrigation system operations. Twelve countries, and seven Indian states, were represented along with several international institutes.

This gathering was the fifth international meeting of the ITIS network, the main objective of which is to disseminate information techniques for the improvement of irrigation performance through an exchange of ideas between managers, researchers and decision-makers. The network is supported by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), headquartered in Sri Lanka, Cemagref, the French research centre for agricultural & environmental engineering, and FAO, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, headquartered in Rome.

The fifth ITIS meeting was hosted by the Government of Maharashtra and organized by the ITIS network and the Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI) of Maharashtra. The previous meetings were held in Sri Lanka in 1993, Pakistan in 1994, Malaysia in 1996 and Morocco in 1997.

The basic assumption underlying this meeting is that the modernization of irrigation system operations is the key to success in increasing yield and productivity in agriculture and in improving the management of limited natural resources such as water.

Aspects of modernization in India and all over the world were examined. Participants visited the Majalgaon Pilot Project of Dynamic Regulation, Maharashtra, where different forms of infrastructural modernization were recently adopted, including a remote-control system for the main canal and hydraulically controlled fixed structures for the branch canals and minors. In this project, the emphasis on flow management through more rigorous flow control substantially improved the reliability of water supply to the farmers. The project demonstrates how modernization can usefully combine high technology and simple, locally made structures.

The meeting was a great success - the participation of high-level professionals led to lively and thorough exchanges of ideas and experiences. Important recent studies concerning modernization were presented and discussed in the plenary sessions. These studies help define the directions in which the irrigation community should move to promote effective modernization.

During the debate, the discussions avoided emphasizing the technical details of modernization, which tend to be site-specific, and focused instead on generic and strategic actions that should be implemented to accompany modernization efforts and therefore increase their chances of success.

Four points were investigated in group discussions which led to the following statements:

The final conclusion of the meeting was that a strategy for modernization should be defined consistently at state level: the goal is to establish a framework for the best institutional arrangement, increase awareness in modernization, upgrade the knowledge of the irrigation professionals, and define methodologies for diagnosis and the selection of appropriate strategies of modernization at project level.

Summary report & conclusions of the ITIS 5 Meeting


Irrigated agriculture already contributes more than one third of the food supply of the world population. In future this contribution will further increase in order to meet the demand of a growing population during the next millennium.

As competition with other uses of water increases dramatically, the challenge for irrigation is to produce more with less water. This goal can only be the result of a high level of performance. It will not be possible without considerable changes in the way water is managed throughout the basin, from the resources down to the end-users. The increase of water productivity in the agricultural sector and the cost-effectiveness of irrigation require changes (or adaptation) of the institutional set-up as well as of the physical infrastructure. In many situations the first crucial improvement is to enhance the reliability of the water supply to the farmers. In other situations where the reliability is already high, further improvement will result in increased flexibility of delivery.

The modernization of irrigation systems is, without doubt, one of the most promising strategies to meet these challenges and targets.

The previous ITIS meeting, held in Morocco in 1997, focussed on modern techniques for canal control. The discussions illustrated how diverse experience in canal control can be. One conclusion of the debate was that the ITIS network should do more on modernization by looking in particular at experiences in developing countries. This motivated the choice of convening the ITIS 5 meeting in Aurangabad, Maharashtra.

Modernization is not a new issue in irrigation; many forums and meetings already have focussed on it. Therefore, to avoid, as much as possible, an overlap with previous meetings, it was decided to address the general theme of modernization of irrigation system operations, with an emphasis on consistent and reliable strategies to accompany modernization interventions.

Thus the emphasis of the meeting was not on the content of modernization techniques, but on the accompanying actions which have been shown to be crucial for its success. In that regard, four more specific aspects were proposed for discussion:

The venue and programme of the meeting

The meeting was hosted by the Government of Maharashtra and held at WALMI Aurangabad, from 28 to 30 October 1998. The meeting was honoured by the presence of Mr Deokule, former Secretary of Irrigation of the Government of Maharashtra. The concluding session was chaired by Dr Chitale, High Commissioner of Water and Irrigation of the Government of Maharashtra and former General Secretary of ICID.

Close to fifty irrigation professionals attended the meeting: 12 countries, and 7 Indian states, were represented, along with several national and international institutes. (A list of participants is given in Annex.)

Plenary sessions were organized for the first day of the meeting and keynote speakers presented benchmark studies on modernization. These were followed by debates organized with the participation of panel members.

The second day was devoted to a visit of the Pilot Project of Dynamic Control of Majalgaon. The irrigation system in Majalgoan was recently modernized with a remote control system on the main canal and fixed regulated structures (duckbill weir and baffles) on some branches and minors. This physical modernization was accompanied by institutional reforms, the creation of water user associations and the introduction of a volumetric tariff.

The third day was spent in group discussions focussing on the four themes mentioned above. In addition, special interventions were delivered by experts on the evolution of the role of funding agencies in modernization and on strategies for training and capacity-building in the field of modernization.

Highlights of the inaugural session

In his inaugural message, Er R.G. Kulkarni, Secretary of Irrigation of the Government of Maharashtra and President of WALMI, welcomed the holding of the meeting in Maharashtra and the high-profile professionals gathered. He expressed the wish that the meeting would identify practical solutions for modernization interventions that should culminate in the economical and more effective allocation of water to any form of end use.

In his welcoming message to the participants, Mr Pendse, Secretary of CADA, Government of Maharashtra, underlined the Maharashtra Irrigation Department's pleasure at co-hosting this important event through WALMI and suggested that these three days of deliberations would open up new possibilities, compatible with different Indian local conditions, enabling the integration of the latest information techniques for the most efficient management of irrigation systems.

Following the opening words of welcome by Er Suresh Shirke, Director of WALMI, Mr Ian Makin, Programme Leader on Design and Operations at IWMI, recalled to the audience that the ITIS network has recently shifted from a narrow focus on information techniques to the broader issues of modernization. This evolution is natural as the challenges faced by irrigation are not confined to the technical domain but lie within a broader managerial domain, with the goal of coping with an increasing competition for water, funds, labour and food.

In his opening statement, Thierry Facon, of FAO, stated that the modernization of irrigation system operations has become a priority for FAO and that ITIS 5 provided a timely opportunity to move in that direction. In this regard FAO would focus on developing performance methodologies enabling sound strategic choices for modernization, for evaluation of decision support systems in their daily operation and management, and for the transfer of modern control concepts. Lack of appropriate knowledge on modernization and modern techniques is considered as one of the major hurdles. Therefore, FAO has developed a concept for training and capacity-building on modernization. FAO wished to take the opportunity of the ITIS 5 meeting to present, for the first time, and discuss proposals with the irrigation community.

Thierry Rieu, of Cemagref, highlighted three main aspects which make the ITIS network original compared with others. The first is experience-sharing between managers, researchers and decision-makers. The second is the willingness (or opportunity) to undertake irrigation management, which implies considering two systems: a water system and an agricultural production system. The third lies in the assumption that irrigation systems are heterogeneous, and this is becoming more and more true as the influence of the market becomes greater on irrigation systems.

Finally, in the inaugural address of the meeting, Er S.T. Deokule, former Secretary of Irrigation of the Government of Maharashtra and the Chief Guest at the ITIS 5th Meeting, welcomed all the participants and delivered a vibrant plea for modernization. He recalled some of the major steps taken in the state during the last decades in this direction (see the inaugural intervention).

Summary of the plenary sessions

Modernization in India

The first plenary session focussed on modernization in India. The first presentation was made by A.B. Mandavia on the status of canal automation in India, with insights on existing or planned projects. The second presentation, by Dr Sakthivadivel, reported the results of an in-depth evaluation study of the Bhadra project in Karnataka, before, during and after rehabilitation. Papers related to these presentations are included in the Benchmark Studies section of the proceedings.

These papers were then discussed by panel members, which led to a general discussion with the audience. Dr Jesda, from Thailand, stated that it is now well understood that modernization should combine hardware, software and human-ware. He further underlined that human-ware is a key factor for success, as shown by the results from the Bhadra project. Concerning the human-ware, Mr Khalaj, from Iran, highlighted that the goal of modern delivery systems, i.e. providing the right amount of water at the right place at the right time, is becoming more and more difficult as the task becomes more complex. Therefore automation, as discussed by A.B. Mandavia, is also a means to minimize human error and to be more efficient with the help of information techniques (MIS, DSS, models, etc). The main question then is how far can we go with automation and in particular when consideration is made of the role of water user associations. The difficult issue of the transfer of high technology in less favourable environments was then identified by Dr Shirke, from India, as one major problem which has to be properly addressed.

The general debate focussed first on how to set some strategic levels of intervention with two concerns: what is the optimal size of a water user association and at what level in the network do high-tech solutions become less effective than other solutions?

One of the difficulties mentioned during the discussion was how to properly anticipate the behaviour of the end-users after modernization, when the service of water has been changed. The Bhadra project shows that a gap may exist between expected and actual behaviour. The involvement of farmers in the system operation has to be carefully discussed and planned to avoid failure.

The question of homogeneity or heterogeneity of irrigation systems is also a matter of concern. Projects based on the concept of a structured system are appropriate for homogeneous conditions but might run into problems where the environment is heterogeneous. This is certainly one of the lessons from the Bhadra study.

Another important question debated was: on what grounds should modernization be based and promoted by decision-makers? A consensus may be easily obtained on the need to document modernization experiences so as to increase the general knowledge and improve technical as well as institutional choices, but this means that at least some projects have to be initially encouraged to generate sufficient experience. This reflects the present situation in India, where very limited data from modernized projects is available. As a consequence, for some time it will be necessary for modernization to get the support of decision-makers who are aware of their long-term advantages. It is hoped that in the long term, more modernized systems will generate sufficient positive feedback to make the decision to modernize motivated by observable success rather than encouraged by outsiders.

One of the main conclusions of this session was that in-depth evaluations of the very few existing projects of modernization are crucial to start building a strategy for the planning and design of future interventions and to increase their chances of success.

Experiences in other countries

The second session focussed on experiences in other countries, with a presentation made by Professor Skogerboe on modernization in the Indus Basin, followed by a survey of modernization in 16 projects world-wide presented by Dr Charles Burt. Related papers are also included in the Benchmark Studies section.

Afterwards, Mr Alexander Reuyan, from the Philipines, raised his concern that modernization of water management should be accompanied by agricultural improvements in the use of other resources to increase yields. He also expressed his interest in seeing the rapid appraisal methodology proposed by C. Burt applied in his country for the diagnosis of irrigation systems and a better organization of modernization interventions. This point was also underlined by Dr Goddalyadda, from Sri Lanka, who reported his own experience of irrigation system classification and of diagnosis for improved methods of operation. Mr J. Plantey, of ICID, insisted on the need to have a continuing approach to modernization to cope with the ever evolving society and agricultural sector. He suggested that modernization should redefine the mission of the manager who is responsible for the service of common interest.

There was an agreement on the fact that information is a fundamental basis for modern management, and that sometimes modernization is nothing but going back to the basic activities of managers. At the other end of the spectrum of modernization, the question of high technology should be analysed less in terms of sophistication than in terms of profitability.

The question of how the movement toward modernization should be initiated was largely addressed during the discussion. Some believed that farmer organizations should be created first to provide the major thrust for modernization. Some argued that organizing farmers is not obviously a good route, especially when the service is poor, and that improvement in the service should take place while or before creating water user associations in order to generate a win-win dynamic situation. Everyone agreed that the water user associations and the service provider should be directly accountable to each other. Successful water user associations are often business-oriented and rely heavily on proper legislation, well-established water rights, and efficient law enforcement. Furthermore, local management is often successful in situations where there is a long history of rural organizations, as in Nepal for example. It was also felt that it is not so much the size of an irrigation system which matters but more its complexity. Large irrigation systems can always be split into subsystems and properly analysed at that level. Obviously this is a requirement for Pakistan, which has the largest continuous irrigated agriculture in the world.

Key interventions were also made during the meeting by Hervé Plusquellec, who presented the point of view of a funding agency and particularly the evolution of the role of the World Bank (details are given in a paper of the author in the proceedings). The policy of the Bank for modernization and irrigation has evolved from a site-specific project approach in the 1960s to a comprehensive-package approach in the 1970s aiming at simultaneously addressing many infrastructural elements (water, roads, schooling, health, etc) and on to a water-resources management policy in the 1990s. Modernization is now seen, discussed, planned and supported by the Bank at state (national) level. Therefore it is crucial for professionals to define consistent state strategies for modernization before addressing site-specific projects.

Group discussion output

Working group 1: re-engineering
Chairman: P.W. Vehmeyer - Co-chairman: K.V.G.K. Rao

Statement proposed to the group: Before being thought in terms of hardware and software, the re-engineering of irrigation system operations needs to be thought within a more global framework, including a clear redefinition of the service of water, the elaboration of a consistent water management strategy at scheme level, the identification of current constraints and a vision for the future development of the scheme.

The group agreed with this statement, but added that the clear redefinition of the service of water needed to be done keeping in mind local circumstances and that not only current constraints, but also future constraints should be taken into account. Furthermore, both the group and the plenary session agreed that re-engineering itself is not only a question of putting hardware and software in place, but also consists in providing for an adequate institutional set-up to manage the operations.

The group started its discussion by addressing the question of the circumstances in which an irrigation system needs to be re-engineered. Generally there is a need to re-engineer when either the present system of operations is malfunctioning or a change in policy is affecting the operation of the irrigation system.

A change of policy is the result of a change in the perspectives policymakers have on how the irrigation system would be able to function in the most appropriate way. It comes forth from a change in the socio-political and economical environment.

A particular policy brings with it certain targets for the operation of the irrigation system. Performance indicators illustrate the way an irrigation system meets defined targets. In the case of a change in policy, the targets will also change. Accordingly the performance of the irrigation system will fall short of the newly defined targets, necessitating a re-engineering of the irrigation system operation.

As the statement says, the re-engineering of irrigation system operations needs to be thought of within a global framework. Part of that global framework is an understanding of the process, which led to the requirement for re-engineering in the first place.

One should also be aware of the different parties involved in the operations of an irrigation system and of their respective interests. In general terms the involved parties are the policymakers, the water users and the service providers. The point was made that re-engineering is a process, which is initiated by a change of policy coming from the policymakers. However, it might well be that this new policy is not in the interest of the individual water users. This needs to be recognized in the re-engineering process.

The working group elaborated on the main constraints which should be taken into account when re-engineering an irrigation system. The first point made was that, as a result of broadening the scope of things taken into account in re-engineering, the number of constraints also increases. The types of constraints include:

Finally there was some discussion about the need for the use of appropriate technology, i.e. technology which meets the skills of the local staff. Although this is an important point for consideration, it should not be separated from an analysis of the general interest in implementation of more modern hardware and software for the irrigation system operations.

Working group 2: evaluation
Chairman: A.K. Chakraboti - Co-chairman: T. Rieu

Statement proposed to the group: The required efforts of modernization of irrigation are huge in terms of the command area and of the required financial resources. It is therefore crucial to identify, for each project, the most appropriate alternative, i.e. the best cost-effective solution. To reach this stage it is essential that awareness of the on-going modernization efforts should be increased and disseminated at the proper scale (state, national, regional). This awareness should be based on reliable procedures of performance evaluation and on trustworthy diagnosis.

Regarding the performance evaluation, three points were identified as important:

To assess irrigation systems and modernization procedures, the group felt that two main types of methods are complementary:

In both cases the issues of accuracy and reliability of data are fundamental to the effectiveness, though not very simple to handle.

Rapid appraisal of performance and in-depth study should not be used at too large a scale, for many reasons. Primarily these procedures assume a homogeneous system, and as the scale increases, an irrigation system tends to be more heterogeneous. They have therefore to be undertaken on a small-scale basis: in-depth study on representative areas and on a pilot-project basis and rapid appraisal of performance on each project proposed for modernization.

These methods are complementary in the sense that rapid appraisal can be more easily duplicated within a large project and can be related to each in-depth study to produce a good understanding of the complete project in all its complexity and heterogeneity.

The technique for evaluation should be based on:

It is essential that a global strategy emerges from the monitoring of pilot projects.

Clear objectives of modernization are required for a clear identification of the end-users' current constraints and potentialities, and of the obstacles to be overcome.

The critical issue of the cost-effectiveness of modernization was debated in the following terms: Modernization should increase the water productivity and sometimes generate water savings. Water savings can be used within the irrigation sector (extension of cultivated areas, more water-demanding crops) or transferred to other sectors. In the latter case, the question is then who will pay for the water transferred and how can the irrigation sector get support from other sectors to fund the modernization programmes. A cost-benefit analysis should be made for any modernization project to assess the real costs as well as the real benefits.

Working group 3: institutional approach
Chairman: GW. Skogerboe - Co-chairman: J. Plantey

Statement proposed to the group: Modernization is not only limited to the introduction of modern hardware and software techniques, but is rather a fundamental transformation of the management of water resources. This transformation can include changing rules and institutional structures related to water rights, water delivery services, accountability mechanisms and incentives in addition to the physical structures. The institutional dimension of modernization should be well understood for the appropriate design of physical transformations as well as for the water management strategy.

Given the diversity of situations and national contexts, the group felt that the first step in a modernization design should be a situation analysis. The objective of this is to try to understand the real needs of farmers at project level as well as to enlarge the scope to a higher level conciliating all water uses in the watershed, in accordance with national priorities.

Strong political and legal support is required for success in modernizing irrigation schemes and systems and in sustaining water rights in the irrigation sector. Water rights for irrigation are contested because of a perceived low efficiency of schemes, therefore one target of modernization should be to consolidate the water rights demonstrating an increased performance and thereby justifying the allocations to agriculture.

At scheme level, situations may be diverse depending on size; a large scheme may require some involvement of the state, whereas a small scheme can be managed purely by the local users.

Two principles were put forward to underpin modern management of irrigation schemes: compatibility between the collective organization and the water resource, and consolidation of water rights on the basis of a quantum.

Volumetric delivery is therefore essential. By ensuring that the deliveries are well controlled for discharge, a simple measure of the opening duration of a gate allows for volume accounting. This might be seen as a good alternative to, and a less cumbersome procedure than, discharge measurement.

A water tariff also motivates efficient use of water. Examples were discussed which show that farmers are motivated where they feel responsible and assume the cost of operation and maintenance.

One strong point in an institutional approach is to clarify the concepts of price, tariff, cost and value of water.

The group unanimously agreed that it is necessary to make the physical organization compatible with the institutional organization.

Working group 4: training and capacity-building
Chairman: T. Facon - Co-chairman: A. Benhamou

Statement proposed to the group: Capacity-building is fundamental to enhance the ability of irrigation professionals to initiate, design, organize and implement modernization interventions. Training is essential to improve the skills of all professionals. In the public sector a new culture of engineers-managers should partly replace the mono-culture of engineers-builders. The private sector should focus on modern techniques to ensure appropriate service and maintenance, timely repairs and emergency interventions.

The participants in the working group fully supported the statement submitted by the meeting organizers. They added that capacity-building for an irrigation modernization programme should also include the training of officials of water user associations, of top-level, mid-level and field technicians and, last but not least, of farmers. However, in view of the time available, the working group decided to limit the discussion to the training of engineers and irrigation managers. Training of professionals from other sub-sectors might also be required when irrigation modernization is implemented in the context of improved water resources management, which is typically the case in a situation of water scarcity when recycling, transfer among users in a river basin and such are required.

A large-scale modernization programme would typically require retraining of a large number of professionals and technicians. The effectiveness of such programmes, however, may be hampered by systematic staff rotation policies (usually three years).

A training programme for professionals should include both technical and non-technical (management, etc) disciplines.

Dr Charles Burt, Director of the Irrigation Training & Research Centre at CalPoly, made a presentation to the working group of the FAO proposal for an irrigation modernization training programme. FAO estimates that a very ambitious large-scale retraining programme for engineers and managers is required now to build up internationally the capacity to implement the needed revolution in the operation of irrigation systems. Irrigation engineers and operators need to understand the new concepts of modernization and be trained in the required skills to implement them practically in the field. The document presenting this programme is included in this report. The programme is structured as a prestigious certification training-of-trainers programme expanded into national upgrading programmes in selected regional and local training centres. It is based on active, pragmatic methods and teaches what we already know works. An important aspect would be the teaching of a rapid appraisal process to diagnose scheme operations, design a locally suitable modernization strategy and identify proven workable technical and management options that can be applied locally to solve identified problems.

The working group unanimously endorsed this programme concept proposal and felt it addressed a real need. Modernization programmes are too often associated only with automation and meet resistance. Even when funding for training is available (in certain countries, as a rule one percent of total costs of all projects is allocated to training), adequate pragmatic training for field staff is not available. The proposed certification system would help create a better recognition of expertise in the modernization of irrigation systems and irrigation management.

WALMI Aurangabad proposed itself as the training centre where the first training-of-trainers programmes could be launched. It was suggested that other WALMI institutes in India could serve as state-level training centres.

It was emphasized that a prerequisite for the launching of such programmes would be a genuine commitment by governments, which should be willing to make qualified staff available for trainers. The modernization concepts need therefore to be accepted first by top-level decision-makers and managers. To this effect, the benefits for developing countries of implementing modernization programmes should be better documented (including in terms of improving water use efficiency, which is typically very low). FAO should also address some design issues in the programme:

It was noted that in certain countries such as the United States, private firms were very forthcoming in responding to requests from training or research centres to supply them with sample equipment or materials.

The role of on-site research in modernization programmes is extremely important. Such sites could enhance dissemination of new techniques and concepts outside of the classroom. Implemented as a small fraction of a large programme, they could be instrumental in steering problem-solving action-oriented practical research by research institutes and in building the capacity to implement the programmes through the targeted training of associated staff.

Diagnostic analysis and performance evaluation methods should be used to identify the problems and orient the design of the research and training programmes.

It was noted that, by necessity, training and research centres which depend on their customers (the irrigation scheme managers) for the funding of their research programmes have to provide a real service to them and have therefore developed rapid intervention methods such as rapid appraisal processes, an outgoing attitude, and carry out in essence on-site research programmes. Centres such as WALMI in Aurangabad and IWMI in Sri Lanka also stated that they felt that the on-site research programmes they were implementing for irrigation agencies and projects were very helpful in gaining a knowledge of the real problems they should address.

Finally, the group noted that the number of irrigation professionals and managers who have access to e-mail and the Internet, including in developing countries, is expanding at an increasing pace and that local and national institutions are developing their Web sites. It was felt therefore that the time was ripe to consider realistically modern networking methods such as e-mail and the World Wide Web as very powerful means of disseminating knowledge and exchanging experience on irrigation modernization among the professional community to increase the capacity for modernization and promote the transfer of technology.

It was noted that a specific discussion mailing list on modernization does not exist yet. Existing non-moderated mailing lists such as trickle-l and irrigation-l are very useful to irrigation practitioners.

FAO announced that it was considering developing a Web site on modernization in 1999 to serve as a platform of exchange of experiences in irrigation modernization and added that it would also consider creating an electronic mailing list as suggested by the group.

Main conclusions

The central message which emerges from this meeting was that modernization is above all an issue of human-ware. It is quite noteworthy to see that, although most participants to the meeting were engineers, almost every paper and almost all questions and points of discussion dealt with institutional, development and sociological issues and were not focussed on techniques. The issue of human-ware can be further expanded into complementary directions.

A further message is that service-oriented management is an essential first step in modernization. This service-oriented management requires in turn an adapted infrastructure and an appropriate strategy for operation. Finally, modern management and operation range from refocus on traditional activities (information) to high techniques as the situation requires.

The third important message is that modernization requires a consistent strategy at state or national level to cope with the cost of interventions, to organize and prepare the irrigation community to overcome the challenges of modernization, to implement the necessary institutional changes and to define and ensure the enforcement of water rights or service rights.

These messages can be further expanded into more practical recommendations which have been fully debated during the meeting:

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