Rapid increases in the world's population have made the efficient use of irrigation water vitally important, particularly in poorer countries, where the greatest potential for increasing food production and rural incomes is often to be found in irrigated areas. It has therefore become a matter of serious concern in recent years that, despite their very high costs, the performance of many irrigation schemes has fallen far short of expectations.
It is becoming increasingly recognized that poor performance is not only a consequence of technical deficiencies in the design of irrigation systems (though this is also sometimes an important factor), but that many of the problems stem from weaknesses in the organization and management of the scheme. The measures most commonly favoured as a means of remedying these problems have often been incomplete, largely because issues of organization and management have not been analysed in a detailed and systematic manner. There has been a tendency to examine problems of water management at two levels: the very highest level - the national administration of water resources, river basin management; and the very lowest level - water management within individual farms and under conditions of small farm agriculture. The management of irrigation at the project level has, however, received scant attention.
It is important to have a rational overall framework for water administration which is consistent with the promotion of national objectives and policies. However, the development of such a framework may often entail major reorganization at the ministerial level, and this can take a long time to implement. It cannot be assumed that the most important micro-problems can be solved by concentrating attention exclusively on improving farmers' water management capabilities at the field and watercourse1 levels. Support for such an assumption is sometimes sought by reference to the fact that technical irrigation efficiencies tend to be much lower at the watercourse and farm levels than in the main water delivery system. This, however, ignores the numerous reasons which may have contributed to these low efficiencies, including weaknesses in management of the main system. Only a comprehensive analysis of all the factors that may be contributing to poor performance at the lower levels of the system can indicate the correct mixture of remedies required, in the correct sequence. In other words, organization and management at the project level needs to be fully reviewed, as well as constraints at the farmers' level.
1 The term 'watercourse' meaning a tertiary canal is predominantly used in the Indian subcontinent.
The purpose of this paper is to help correct some of the imbalances commonly found in current thinking about irrigation organization and management by focussing on the provision of services at the project level. It aims to demonstrate to planners (whether they are concerned with new projects or older projects requiring improvement) the importance of an appropriate organizational structure, the application of suitable management methods and the provision of technically adequate services as factors determinant of good project performance. It also indicates, often in considerable detail, the guidelines to be followed in the course of any evaluation and/or planning exercise.
The focus on the project level is not meant to imply that improvement at the farm and watercourse levels is necessarily a less important issue. The need for farmers to be provided with effective irrigation assistance and extension services is strongly emphasized in the paper and, wherever justified, such services should be an integral part of water management organizations. There are, however, important implications on the sequence of action which can only be clearly understood if management problems at the field and watercourse levels are examined in the broader context of project management as a whole. For example, many recent studies of irrigation projects have indicated that (for various reasons, some of them connected with the technical skills of operating staff, some with social factors) main system water distribution is frequently very unsatisfactory. Where this is the case, it follows that proposals to improve water management practices at the field and watercourse levels, in the absence of simultaneous or prior measures to improve practices or the irrigation system at the project level, will lead to disappointing results.
Water distribution is clearly of central importance in any irrigation project, but many other aspects of project organization and management also have a profound influence on performance. These include the project's organizational structure, its overall direction and coordination, and the provision of other services such as operation, maintenance, irrigation assistance to farmers, finance and administration.
Considerable emphasis has been placed on the establishment of a suitable organizational structure because in many instances poor performance of irrigation schemes is due to inappropriate organizational structures. Unsuitable organizations can be found in countries with little experience in irrigation, and sometimes organizational structures are tried out on the basis that they were successful somewhere else. Such structures are also found in countries with a long tradition of irrigation where obsolete water laws limit the planners' possibilities to introduce more dynamic or more suitable organizational forms. The paper provides some general criteria and guidelines to help planners to identify a suitable organization. Specific guidelines cannot be given since local conditions will bear strongly on decisions regarding the structure of the organizations.
Technical activities related to operation, maintenance, irrigation assistance to farmers, administration and finance are covered in the paper in considerable detail. Organizational aspects related to the management of these services, such as manpower requirements and possible alternatives for the organization of the technical services, are discussed as well. Therefore the paper should also be of interest to the technical and administrative staff engaged in these functions, and their observations on the text would be highly appreciated.
The gathering of data to provide some standards for manpower needs and the use of machinery has been a long and difficult process since data often differ greatly due to wide variations in local circumstances. The standards provided are reasonable averages of the most consistent data that could be obtained through personal experiences and communications. Nevertheless, they should be taken as orientations which must be tested and verified locally before project implementation. There is still considerable scope for detailed research in this field at country level, and for different agro-climatic regions.
There is a great need to train professionals and medium level technicians in matters related to organization and management. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, the subject is largely neglected in the curricula of universities and postgraduate courses. The present paper, since it deals with the subject in a rather comprehensive manner, should be useful to introduce the subject to students. In order to introduce the paper to a wider audience, efforts have been made to reduce the use of mathematical formulae or detailed technical discussions in the main text. For those interested in the detailed discussions of some of the technical issues the annexes and references provide further information.