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General summary Asia

Trends in irrigation and drainage

Although quite subjective by nature, some clear trends can be observed across the countries of the region. The most frequently mentioned issue relates to the recognition of the failure to develop adequate operation and maintenance (O&M) mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of the irrigation schemes (mostly large, public schemes). Irrigation management transfer or increased participation of users in the management of the schemes is seen by most countries as the solution to this sustainability problem. This is achieved through the development or improvement of water users associations (WUAs) and is a priority in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Nepal and the Republic of Korea where WUAs are a reality. In the Philippines, Lao PDR and China, gradual programmes of irrigation management transfer are at different stages of completion, while Mongolia plans to introduce WUAs in the near future.

Financial sustainability requires a revision of measurement, computation and recovery mechanisms related to water fees. In countries such as China, Lao PDR, Thailand, the policy is now to adjust water fees so that they cover at least the cost of O&M.

The strengthening of WUAs is also linked to the need expressed in several countries to improve the overall performance and water use efficiency of irrigation schemes. Intensification and improved performance are indicated as objectives of irrigation policies for India, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Diversification (from rice) is a policy of Japan and Malaysia, while Lao PDR Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar and Viet Nam are attempting to promote a more market-oriented irrigated agriculture, free cropping and extension of cash crops.

Countries are also studying ways to modernize their irrigation as for instance in Japan, Malaysia and Mongolia.

As the older public schemes reach the age of 30-40 years in most countries, the issue of rehabilitation, which is related to those of operation and maintenance and modernization, is becoming increasingly important. While for some countries (such as Lao PDR, Myanmar, Philippines, Viet Nam and parts of India) the extension of irrigated land still represents an important part of irrigation programmes, in most countries rehabilitation programmes are taking on increasing importance. The increased land and water scarcity and low expected return of future expansion of irrigation in these countries are often factors explaining the growing importance of rehabilitation in irrigation programmes.

Indeed, water scarcity is another major issue mentioned in several country reports such as for China, Japan, Philippines or India. Increased competition for water between sectors already affects agriculture in China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and the Republic of Korea and the trend is towards an intensification of the problem due mainly to the rapid growth of the domestic and industrial sectors in these countries. Major interbasin transfer programmes are reported in China and Thailand. Water scarcity and the interdependency between water use sectors are pushing countries to develop integrated water resources management programmes, as in Malaysia, Myanmar, Viet Nam and Thailand.

Water quality is also a growing concern in several countries where industrial development is important: Republic of Korea, India, Malaysia, Philippines, while some progress in water quality is reported in Japan. The increased importance of water conservation and protection in the national programmes is also mentioned in Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh; in this last country, siltation is the single most important water quality issue.

Competition for land is acute in Japan (where urban encroachment on agricultural land also has implications for water distribution in irrigated areas), in DPR Korea and in the Philippines. In Thailand, the transfer of populations from high density to low density areas has encountered serious socio-economic problems.

While irrigation has been instrumental in achieving self-sufficiency in staple crop production in recent decades in most countries of the region, some countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines still indicate self-sufficiency as a major target of their irrigation development programmes; this mainly to keep pace with rising populations. In Malaysia, however, the national policy is to decrease self-sufficiency in rice from 80 to 65 percent in 2010, due to the high cost of rice production. In Japan, rice irrigation has been on a downward trend for the last 20 years due to overproduction in the 1970s.

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Quote as: FAO. 2014. AQUASTAT website, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [YYYY/MM/DD]
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