FAO - Land and Water Development Division Water Resources, Development and Management Service - AGLWFAO Home Page
Survey on modernization of irrigation schemes - An IPTRID/FAO-AGLW Collaborative Initiative
Water home | Themes | AGLW Water Management and Irrigation Systems Group | Survey on Modernization
Error processing SSI file

The Irrigation Modernization Process

      Justification and Objectives of Modernization
      Policy and Legal Implications
      Technical Considerations
      Institutional Modalities
      Financial Implications
      Environmental Considerations
      M&E and Performance
      Summary: Vision of Modern Irrigation

Within the present situation of increasing competition for the water resource and the need to meet food demands of the world population, improved performance of irrigation systems can be part of the solution. This note provides a brief summary of the factors that need to be taken into consideration in an Irrigation Modernization process that in turn can be part of a strategy to ensure enhanced water productivity while sustaining the environment. It is not expected, nor necessarily recommended, however that all these elements need to be present in every modernization process; what is included or not will be a function of the breadth and scope of the modernization process at hand. Once it is understood what may be entailed, the results of the modernization case studies can be related and analyzed; they can be brought into perspective to determine how far (and why) the interventions went in the cases reported, therefore facilitating their comparison and being able to derive lessons from the studies.

Justification and Objectives of Modernization

At least 70 percent of today's existing area under irrigation worldwide constitutes formal irrigation schemes built by governments in the middle decades of the twentieth century; through local, national or most likely international funding. By the 80s these schemes had reached a saturation level with decaying infrastructure and a reluctance of users to contribute to their up keeping, which resulted in a downward cycle of poor water deliveries performance and the subsequent dwindling agricultural-related profits. The antecedent condition coupled with the far reaching economic crisis of the latter years of the century, gave way to a "devolution" process on the part of governments to transfer responsibility of the management of the irrigation systems to its users. Currently, more than 40 countries have undergone some kind of management transfer which has resulted in greater participation of water users in the decision making process to operate and maintain their irrigation schemes.

A critical aspect of the ensuing Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) process was related to the unwillingness of farmers to accept taking over management responsibilities of their schemes which presented such deteriorated conditions unless some upgrading could take place beforehand. Thus, the idea of "modernizing" the schemes before the hand over was to take place gained momentum. The degree of modernization necessary was, of course, both a functions of the particular conditions of each scheme and the economic possibilities of the governments in question. In fact, whether to modernize or simply rehabilitate became a critical factor of discussion among irrigation authorities.

For IPTRID, and subsequently to AGLW, the unique situation related to the modernization of irrigation schemes that was in the making offered a good opportunity to document and study that process. Irrigation stakeholders had manifested the need to both analyze and synthesize the different approaches that were being undertaken, by different institutions (governments included) in order to solve the widening gap between users and governments' perceptions concerning the conditions of irrigation systems and actions to be taken. In line with the broad definition of modernization, the study was to pay special attention not only to the technical issues but also to the institutional reforms that were taking place.

The objectives of a modernization programmed can be many-fold, among these, Burt and Styles (1999) suggest the following:

  • Improved crop yields,
  • Improved irrigation efficiency,
  • Reduce operation and maintenance (O&M) costs,
  • Improved recovery of O&M costs,
  • Improved financial sustainability,
  • Reduce conflict among project staff and water users, and
  • Reduction of environment degradation

A careful analysis of the objectives above shows a tight correspondence with the definition of modernization presented elsewhere in this website. They reinforce the notion that modernization is a clear avenue for enhanced irrigation performance and that it is necessarily a multifunction effort cutting across disciplinary issues: irrigation engineering, agronomy, agricultural economics, social interactions and environmental protection. To achieve those objectives a combination of hardware- and software-related actions are called for; with the mix and balance between ingredients to be dictated by the particular nature of the problem at hand. Thus, there is no magic recipe that could be summarily applied, although it is to be expected that certain basic elements will always exist and will need to be taken into consideration in the modernization process. The presence and nature of such elements would constitute an "idealized" irrigation modernization process; and are explored in the following sections of this note.

Policy and Legal Implications

Normally, a country's irrigation policy is contained within its broader agricultural or water resources sector framework. For example, and recently, countries efforts with respect to irrigation management transfer, which carries a strong component of irrigation (sub-sector) policy reform, have been formulated as part of wider water resources sector development programs; such is the case of Mexico (Kloezen et al, 1997) and Indonesia (WB, 1999). Sometimes, like in the case of Spain (Min Agric, 2002) irrigation policy change was included as a sub-component of a broader agricultural improvement drive; converging into a national irrigation plan. Or like in Guatemala, where the basis for a large country-wide rural development program is being spearheaded through policy improvements for irrigated agriculture (Castañaza-Ruano, 2003). Therefore, a specific national policy on irrigation modernization, by itself, is not to be expected. This is not surprising, it would be difficult to conceive this kind of strategy in isolation; like in the previous examples modernization of irrigation would be tied to broader efforts.

Irrigation modernization can give origin to a particular policy directive at the ministerial or even lower level (irrigation agency or other equivalent governmental body) that would establish a set of rules or guidelines under which one or several irrigation schemes were to undergo a modernization process. This is not to say that political support is not important in wanting to pursue an irrigation modernization program; but this support will not need to be generated at the highest levels of government. Such as in Malaysia which has defined a long-term modernization programme and is currently implementing it; directed towards eight granary schemes which have been targeted for achieving national rice production objectives. Similarly, China and South Korea are now committed to extensive irrigation modernization having announced considerable budget allocations for that purpose as part of improved irrigated agriculture sector efforts. (FAO, 1997, page 153).

Thus, most likely, specific policy on irrigation modernization will be found within broader government's strategy for agriculture. Nowadays, liberalization of the economy, deregulation and greater participation of the private sector is being used as avenues for expansion of the agricultural sector. Moving towards integrated water resources management where the adoption of basin/sub-basin approaches and conjunctive use of water resources are key in planning further development, will give room to irrigation expansion and from there modernization. Given the nature of these interventions it is likely that more and more they will fall in the hands of the private sector where efficiency and profits are necessary conditions, further justifying the need for a modern irrigated agriculture sub-sector.

Likewise, legal definitions in respect to water constitute a key element of irrigation modernization. Water rights specify the amount of water that users, either individually or collectively, are entitled to receive. Water rights between irrigation systems or between local management units (including WUA) are normally legal entitlements adjudicated by the government. Within an irrigation system, entitlements to water, often referred to as water allocations, are generally fixed and administered by the managing institution. If water rights and type of allocation are not clearly defined beforehand, any modernization effort is unlikely to result in the desired outcome.

Very often, it is a water rights issue that prompts the need for change, and depending on the scope of the problem, leading to an irrigation modernization process. Water rights and allocation are, of course, intimely related to water availability. Furthermore, whether water rights are in the hands of individual users, a WUA as a whole, a government agency, or a private service provider (utility company or the like) can shape the nature of the most efficient technical and/or institutional approach to be taken. Link to the water rights would be the structure of the water service fee which, in turn, is the key to system financial sustainability. Therefore, and while not a pre-condition per se careful consideration of water legal implications need to be at the forefront of the irrigation modernization analysis.

Technical Considerations

Reference has been made earlier to decaying infrastructure of systems build in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Notwithstanding the poor management that can be associated with the previous statement, it is also true that systems' designs could very well be obsolete and could benefit from change - read modernization - as they are now highly inefficient in terms of water delivery and energy requirements. While the concept of "supply management" prevailed at the time, the irrigation community is now clearly on the side of "demand management" where the idea is centered on the desire to provide the water users with a service that is tailored more to the needs of their crops' water requirements as oppose to the mere proportionate division of an existing water resource over available land. It is the incompatibility between these two approaches that lies at the heart of making irrigation schemes more productive, competitive and sustainable.

Demand management, or productive irrigation as it is also known, seeks to enhance and hopefully to maximize, both the crop output per unit of land and per unit of water, wherein lies the core of a modern irrigated agriculture exploitation. The basic requirement under the water demand management approach is the availability of variable quantities of water during the cropping seasons. This particular need poses a challenge to the irrigation infrastructure (hardware) and the managerial capabilities of the scheme (software) leading to the need for modernization of existing schemes. It is the desired balance sought between hardware and software that dictates the technical options; that is technical complexity does entail specific management requirements. Moreover, the objective of technology design should be geared to secure infrastructure that enables the provision of an agreed level of service, for example one that is able to distribute water in accordance to users' agricultural operations.

It is easy to understand that solutions to irrigation performance can not be at either end of the hardware-software spectrum; more likely an efficient solution lies somewhere in between dictated by factors such as hardware availability, its simplicity of operation and maintenance, its cost, the managerial know-how or ability to make use of it, and very likely social-cultural and environmental conditions that will facilitate acceptance or rejection of measures applied. Technological options need to go hand in hand with the corresponding managerial capacity. Very often an irrigation systems is handled by different organizations at different levels, like government or professional contractors providing services at higher hydraulic levels, such as dam, headworks and main canal and water associations at secondary levels and below; therefore the need to match the technical requirements with its corresponding managerial skill. As Plusquellec (2002) clearly point out technological changes alone or managerial-only solutions in the pursuit of enhanced irrigation performance are bound to fail, and have failed, in numerous example around the world.

With respect to the technology itself, a broad range of options from manual through semi-automatic to fully automated systems exist for diversion, regulation and control structures. The same is true for flows measurements ranging from simple staff gauges to float-type or electrode-type water level gauges or ultrasonic discharge. Advances in communications, telemetry and telephones, as well as computers, surveying and optimization technology, facilitates data collection storage and analysis, leading to improved monitoring and evaluation of system operations. Modernization allows the introduction of these advances, improving water delivery and control translating into improved water use efficiencies. Enhanced managerial capabilities need to go hand in hand with technology upgrades.

Wolter and Burt (in FAO, 1997) very well summarize the technological options of modernization, pointing out that each project is different and therefore actual modernization requires an assessment of the technological needs of any individual project. They list some key elements that should be present or targeted under modernization in order to ensure performance improvements: Provide all-weather access to critical sites, like cross regulators; match maintenance equipment with requirements; a communication network capable of transmitting, storing and displaying a wide variety of human and equipment signals; improved control of main canals; automatic flow measurements and control at secondary network; improved control and flexibility at tertiary network; enhanced water delivery methods at field level, like the use of low pressure pipes, etc.

Institutional Modalities

A substantial effort on modernization of irrigation has concentrated on seeking new institutional arrangements that would make more efficient the operation and management of the systems. Two broad and interrelated concepts have gained force during the past twenty years or so although they have existed further back. Together they represent the lion's share of those efforts and are the central axis of today's' irrigation sector reform undertakings. They are defined as follows: Irrigation management transfer (IMT), meaning the relocation of responsibility and authority for irrigation management from government agencies to non-governmental organizations, such as water users' associations or other private sector entities; and Participatory irrigation management (PIM), normally refers to the involvement of water users in irrigation management, along with the government. Thus, while the former intends to replace the role of the government the latter seeks to strengthen the water user-government relationship. The concepts intersect at the "co-management" stage of IMT where before a final transfer takes place the government agency and the recipient organization agree to share responsibilities.

The philosophy behind the changes lays in the perception that ownership, representation and active participation in the O&M, of the irrigation systems creates or forces a binding commitment from water users to be more effective and responsible towards their obligations. Once farmers assume the costs associated with running the systems the incentives to succeed increase. On the other hand, governmental irrigation agencies usually constrained by bureaucratic procedures, dwindling budgets and rigid policies translated into inefficient and desmotivated personnel and hence low system performance. A few salient points of IMT directly related to irrigation modernization are briefly summarized below; they emanate from FAO's and INPIM international IMT e-mail conference held in 2001.

It is the recent irrigation institutional reform trend that has propelled irrigation modernization, or at least the rehabilitation of irrigation systems. However, and oddly enough, the reform has been implemented primarily for financial and economic reasons rather than for institutional or managerial reason per se: governments can no longer afford to sustain costly irrigation systems at current low levels of productivity. Rather than the new management set ups having to adjust to an existing technical structure designed for a different institutional condition, modernization of the systems provide an opportunity to seek a better match between emerging technologies and new institutional realities. This will also dispel the notion that the model of farmer managed irrigation systems would not be applicable to modern schemes. There are now enough examples of organizational arrangements interacting smoothly with technical demands.

A critical element of IMT refers to the need for a clear legal framework in order to create a transparent set of relations between the irrigation administration and the farmers; it must define the respective rights and obligations. It should address and define the enforcement of powers a WUA needs in relation to its members; what kind of sanctions could user's organizations impose on their members for non-payment, non-performance of other duties or violating internal rules. The link between legislative framework, WUA effectiveness and equity, productivity and efficiency of system performance are foregone. Equally clear but perhaps less obvious is the notion of the utilization of modern technology to minimize user's conflicts: increased equity in water distribution, enhanced flexibility to meet water demand, less wastage through improved water control, and better monitoring, evaluation and hence feedback through upgraded managerial capacity.

A final aspect of institutional arrangements derived from IMT and intersecting with irrigation modernization relates to the so called Support Services requirements. In a way, these have been mentioned directly or indirectly already. Capacity Building in its broader sense, (UNDP, FAO et al, 1998) or "the sum of efforts needed to nurture, enhance and utilize the skills and capabilities of people and institutions at all levels………so that they can progress towards sustainable development." very well defines what it is entailed: training across system levels and disciplines; technical assistance, and agricultural extension. Likewise, issues related to know-how on agricultural credit, marketing and food processing will necessarily be part of the support process. To take advantage of irrigation modernization these collateral components need reviewing and upgrading.

With respect to training --within the irrigation modernization process-- its role is so fundamental that it could hardly be overstated; it is seen as the core element of the capacity building component. Numerous authors and through many events (see for example Burt and Styles and Burt and Facon in ITIS5, 1999) have emphazised how training spans all projects regardless of climate, culture and nationality, since the basic concepts to be transmitted are universal in nature; and how it can be used to enhance the ability of irrigation professionals to initiate, design, organize and implement irrigation modernization measures. Training should not be limited to a small design team, it should include staff involved in controlling the quality of the construction of [modernization] pilots project and those who will be assigned to manage them. There is also a serious shortage of trainers that can provide focused and pragmatic instructions that properly incorporate both strategies and details of hardware and management modernization. This very much in line with earlier arguments made in relation to the concept of modernization.

A final point on the training issue worth mentioning comes from IPTRID (2003) who states that the reason for misuse and mismanagement of water in agriculture is that irrigation is not just a question of dams, canals, pipes and technologies. It is above all a question of human and institutional capacities. The human factor needs to be much more taken into account in investment plans than in the past. The development of new irrigated areas, and modernization of existing irrigation schemes, will in future have to pay more attention to the people and organizations involved. Improving the efficiency and productivity of the use of water for agriculture, while avoiding environmental catastrophes, is first of all a question of providing the right know-how to all stakeholders involved. It is also a question of improving institutions. Capacity development should be seen as an integrated concept that goes well beyond training, and embraces also the concepts of research and demonstration, technology transfer, participation, empowerment, technical assistance and institutional development.

There are other numerous examples, worldwide, on applications of either IMT or PIM in the irrigation's institutional change related literature. Besides FAO who has now documented IMT-related activities in 42 countries, other international organizations like IWMI, Ford Foundation, Asian Development Bank and World Bank or individual country efforts like in Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia and China have profusely documented the process, impacts and outcomes of this institutional reform.

Financial Implications

Who pays for modernization is a fundamental question. It was until now customary for governments to assume, if not totally, a large share of the funding responsibility, be it through national funds or more likely through international loans. With the institutional arrangements described earlier, of necessity and given the inability of governments to support irrigation development, users are now being asked to share the costs. Financing is the key process, upon which the availability of irrigation institutions depends, and financial self-reliance creates the basic climate incentive for effective and efficient management of schemes by its users, but it does not guarantee it. Good governance, process transparency and know how are critical to realizing the potential. In practice, however, modernization subsidies are still very high; an undesirable situation since they sap incentives for efficiency and create dependency from government which has been, in the first place, a reason for the changes that have been taking place.

The manner in which water is allocated and charged to intermediate and end-users will likely determine the organizational structure of the water user's organization. But, financial resources should not be limited to those derived from collecting water charges, there is a need to mobilize and received additional financial resources emanating through bank loans, donations, tax exemptions and others that would allow to reinforce financial sustainability. A critical aspect is to evaluate carefully that the introduction of certain technology and the consequent financial requirements to operate and maintain will not drain the capabilities of the management organization.

With respect to modernization and water pricing the argument can be no different than the on-going international discourse on whether water should be treated purely as an economic good, as originally proposed at the Dublin conference (Ireland) in 1992, or whether water should also be viewed as a basic human right, a financial obligation, a social necessity and a critical environmental resource. These various views make the selection of a set of prices and pricing mechanism that adequately address all those concerned exceptionally difficult.

The cost of water service, is composed by the following:

  • the total cost of water supply, composed by the water delivery cost to the customer, the maintenance costs and the capital costs,
  • the social opportunity cost (value of the foregone alternative action) of water use for agriculture and economical externalities, and
  • the environmental externalities.

In a given context the cost is determined by these three items and, strictly speaking, the cost of the water service has to be directly or indirectly met by someone, even the future generations when we are dealing with some environmental negative externalities which are not presently considered. The price paid or that should be paid by the users for the water service is something different although related obviously to the cost.

The price is a function of i) the way costs are evaluated and ii) the cost sharing mechanisms in place. The latter are themselves a function of agricultural policies, equity concerns, etc. They define, according to the evaluation of costs, the portion to be financed by the end-users (farmers).

Two methods can be used to establish the water fee (P): (i) volumetric, which is based on the amount of water to be utilized by the system; thus, it requires information on the volume of water [to be] delivered to users, and (ii) non-volumetric, which is not based on water but rather uses a proxy, such as outputs, inputs, area or betterment levy. On the other hand, the structure of the water fee is characterized by the method used and the elements that constitute the fee. For example, a proportional structure utilizes the volumetric method and is characterized by a constant ratio between the unit water price and its corresponding volume; in mathematical form is described by the equation P(V)=aVx. The inclusive structure utilizes the non-volumetric method and is characterized by a "fixed" value determined through proxy as mentioned earlier; [in mathematical form is described by the equation, P= b. The binomial structure indicates that the fee has been composed through a combination of both methods, that is a fixed and a volume-based component; [in mathematical form is described by the equation, P (V)= b + aV where b ? 0. An additional characteristic of the water fee structure is when it incorporates tiered pricing, and it can be found in both methods. Price increases as a function of volume can be done stepwise, or with increasing or decreasing proportionality.

Water fee setting depends on water management policies, legal framework, technical considerations, institutional arrangements or social conditions, and combinations thereof

According to Hofwegen & Malano (1997) and Renault & Montginoul (2003), a sustainable service oriented irrigation and drainage management relies on three pillars:

  • a precise identification of the users
  • a clear specification of the services to be provided to users
  • an appropriate pricing policy.

Malano & Hofwegen (1999) specify some features for this service oriented management:

  • It is output-oriented: the cost of the service provision is based on well developed operation and asset management programs,
  • It involves users to determine levels of service and the associated cost of service,
  • The irrigation and drainage organization should be able to recover the cost of service provision either from direct consumers or from subsidies, and
  • It relies on an appropriate legal framework that provides protection for users, the organization providing service and the general interest of society.

Finally, Renault & Montginoul (2003) define some important practical conditions for service oriented management to be effective:

  • minimize the transaction costs: the cost of measuring the service and charging should remain small compare to the cost of the serice itself.
  • possibility of supressing the services to non-payers (political will and physical ability)
  • flexibility for the users to modify the service accortding to his cropping pattern.

These conditions are not easily met on the grounds, and the practicalities of implementing the "user payer principle" is constrainted by these.

The service-oriented irrigation above points towards the direction of increased private sector participation. In fact, there are already interesting cases of private capital being invested in irrigation modernization in China, Chile and elsewhere and investors expect to recover their investment and earn profit through fees paid by water users under service agreements. Incentives for efficient investment certainly include a profit margin of private investors mentioned above. Token but significant cost sharing on the part of the users groups can also be effective in prioritizing sound investment.

Environmental Considerations

Irrigation modernization can be seen as a development process and as such subject to environmental impact. The need and the procedure for environmental assessment are now well documented. Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA, was developed in the 1970s in order to look into environmental impacts of any development activity, to provide an opportunity to mitigate against negative impacts and to enhance positive ones. An EIA is defined as "a formal process to predict the environmental consequences of human development activities and to plan appropriate measures to eliminate or reduce adverse effects and to augment positive effects" (FAO, 1995). This process provides an opportunity for mitigation measures to be incorporated to minimize problems, and provides an opportunity to demonstrate ways in which the environment may be improved.

In the context of irrigation and drainage, an EIA would be originally conceived to be applied in the case of development of new areas under irrigation when impact on the environment can be perceived as greater (and certainly to the construction of a dam, if that would be the case). Normally, the physical infrastructure of a system is considered the "hardware" and thus having the potential to cause the "core" damage to the environment; and the sustainable operation is just dependent on the "soft" environment: education, institutional arrangements, legal structures and external support services. Putting all these elements together provides the venue through which a well-balanced and sustainable irrigation system minimizes its impact of the environment.

It should be clear that different types of irrigation will have different types of impacts; but, it should not be directly assumed that the modernization of an irrigation system necessarily means less or no impacts at all; for example it could increase energy consumption or lead to social problems as a result of replaced labor in agriculture. True, irrigation modernization may have the benefit of EIA assessment done at the time of the original irrigation development and if so, that particular study can be the basis for the new analysis.

For the interested reader, the earlier FAO reference can provide an in-depth view on the environmental impact assessment of irrigation and drainage projects. For the purpose of this publication it may suffice to provide a brief summary on the main problems, both hard and soft, affecting the environment as a result of irrigation. Which of these will need to be reviewed in the context of irrigation modernization would be a function of the nature of the modernization process itself.

Two sets of environmental problems can be directly associated to land and water issues. In connection with the former, land degradation due to salinization, alkalinization, waterlogging and soil acidification are of primary concern. With respect to the latter, reduction of water quality including on downstream users and impacts on drinking water are of most concern. A third set of problems are those related to potential deterioration of socio-economic conditions, like those derived from increased incidence of water-related diseases, increased inequality in access to the water resource, reduction of community livelihoods, etc. A fourth and final group pertain to the potential for ecological degradation, such as reduced bio-diversity, ecosystem imbalance or alterations downstream. Needless to say, each of these impacts can carry an economic loss. Mitigation measures for each group and individual type of impact exists and should be carefully determined.

Irrigation modernization can provide an opportunity to review environmental damage which may have gone unchecked or ignored; also new technology can and is environmental friendly and can be the motor for improved interventions. Certainly, the opportunity of modernization to deliver water on a more precise "how, how much, when and where" basis can constitute an invaluable mitigation measure to tackle land and water degradation. Equally, it can intervene to solve inequity-based problems through the broad participatory process of the community, as part of the process for modernization of irrigation.

M&E and Performance

A final link of the modernization process relates to the need there is to establish the base line condition under which it will be established, including the enabling environment. Given that the basic idea of modernizing an irrigation system carries an element of change, and that the forthcoming process should keep in mind the gains of technology, managerial know-how and institutional reform that have taken place since the last intervention took place (from originally designed, a rehabilitation, and even some previous modernization effort) to deal with the past and current status of the scheme becomes an intrinsic part of the process. Obviously, we are dealing with base-line survey, monitoring and evaluation and its end-product, the performance of the system. The initial base-line or performance assessment should establish the cause and effects of required interventions to assure change and provide the basis to develop parameters for subsequent follow up monitoring and evaluation. Thus, these first results should identify a range of possible actions dealing with technological options and managerial strategies. The proposed interventions should reflect current state of the art and be consequent with the financial and economic opportunities of the change.

As with other previous aspects of modernization, there is no suggestion being made that a whole new approach to monitoring, evaluation and hence performance for modernized irrigation systems is required. Existing tools already developed in this context will suffice. For purpose of comprehensiveness of this subsection, two well known and complementary techniques will be defined and succinctly explained. The interest reader can refer to the bibliography for further analysis

The first technique referred to as Rapid Appraisal Process (RAP) is a diagnosis tool and allows qualified personnel to systematically and quickly determine key indicators of irrigation projects (Burt, 2001). It is ideal as a base-line survey for irrigation modernization purposes. The technique examines external inputs such as water supplies, and outputs derived from that water, such as crops or surface runoff. The RAP exercise can be completed under two 2 weeks time or less of field and office work - assuming that some readily available data have been organized by project authorities in advance. It provides a systematic examination of the hardware and processes used to convey and distribute water internally to all project levels. Both external and internal indicators are developed to provide:

  • A baseline of information for comparison against future performance after modernization,
  • Benchmarking for comparison against other irrigation projects, and
  • A basis for making specific recommendations for modernization.

One of the most effective use of RAP is as a training tool for local engineers, when the participants are doing themselves the evaluation and the proposal for modernization. This approach has been widely used by FAORAP in many modernization workshops in Asia (www.watercontrol.org).

The second technique, already mentioned in the preceding lines is Benchmarking. Malano and Burton (IPTRID, 2001) define the concept as "A systematic process for securing continual improvement through comparison with relevant and achievable internal or external norms and standards." The key words here are improvement through comparison, conveying the need for a recurrent and systematic evaluation process that sets the basis for future direction and actions. It is about positive change based on previous experiences and it is in essence a powerful management tool. The concept originated in the corporate business sector and efforts are being made now to adjust it in the context of irrigation systems. For benchmarking to be successful it is important that those responsible for carrying out the procedure have the authority to bring on the changes needed and that the process is fully integrated within the organization's processes and procedures.

The objectives of benchmarking are consequent with the objectives of modernization described earlier: improve returns on investment, improve the level of service, enhance the productivity of the water resource, etc. This, of course, is not surprising since both interventions head in the same direction. It is difficult to conceive the modernization of an irrigation system without conducting an evaluation process in order to identify weak points in the scheme that need to be remedy. But, the reverse situation does not necessarily follows: that is, there can be a benchmarking activity unrelated to modernization; in this case the exercise could be part of a self-improvement effort on the part of management or end-users.

RAP and Benchmarking can be thought of as two faces of the same coin, they are clearly complementary, but could be used single and independently. What ties the two is the whole theory behind performance indicators. Currently, there is an international initiative led by World Bank, FAO and IWMI, among others, to converge towards a minimum set of performance indicators through which a system evaluation can take place (see World Bank, 2002). Both RAP and Benchmarking are closely associated to this effort. An in-depth discussion on these would overflow this note. Therefore, with respect to a performance analysis, one could compare those particular indicators mentioned in the case studies with those advocated in the international initiative and try to determine how they fit and how close they can reflect the performance of the systems. Limitations identified thereof would provide useful overall lessons as to the appropriateness and extent with which the issue of M&E and performance are being considered in the context or irrigation modernization.

Summary: Vision of Modern Irrigation

The preceding sections provided a glance on the irrigation modernization process; which Wolter and Burt (in FAO, 1997) see as the result of a thought process which considers the incorporation of new design and equipment with a vision to future irrigation operations. These authors feel that modern irrigation should have the following characteristics, and given the pertinence to this document, they are summarized herein as:

  • Modern irrigation is a service to farmers which should be as efficient and convenient as possible,
  • Modern irrigation schemes consist of several levels with clearly defined interfaces, where water is measured and control,
  • Each level is financially autonomous and hydraulically as independent as possible,
  • Each level is responsive to the needs of its clients,
  • Farmers ultimately have to generate the benefits which keep the system functioning, maintenance is the obligation of each level,
  • The hydraulic design of the water delivery system is created with a well-defined operational plan; the plan needs to be robust, that is relatively little change under fluctuating original design conditions,
  • Motivated and train operators are present al all levels of the system, and
  • There is a clear recognition of the importance and requirements of agriculture and of the existing farming system.

The preceding sentences become the summary guideline for the analysis of the irrigation modernization process to be undertaken through the case studies survey. In the following figure, a schematic diagram on the building blocks of the irrigation modernization process is provided. It is intended to show, figuratively, how there is a need for all the intervening elements to "fit" in order to carry on an effective modernization effort. The relative size of individual blocks or the specific locations within the diagram are not intended to set priorities.

Figure: Building Blocks of Irrigation Modernization Process.


Burt, C. 2002. Rapid appraisal process (RAP) and benchmarking: Explanation and tools. FAO and World Bank: Irrigation Institutions Window. October.

Castañaza-Ruano, F.E. 2003. Desarrollo rural a través de la modernización y fomento de la agricultura bajo riego. En Día de las Américas. Resumen. Tercer Foro Mundial del Agua. Kyoto, Japón. Pp 219-234.

FAO. 1999. Modern Water Control and Management Practices in Irrigation: Impact on Performance. IPTRID-FAO-World Bank. Water Reports: 19. Rome, Italy.Pp: 224

FAO. 1997. Modernization of Irrigation Schemes: Past Experiences and Future Options. Water Reports: 12. Rome, Italy. Pp: 258

FAO. 1995. Environmental impact assessment of irrigation and drainage projects. Irrigation and Drainage paper 53. Rome, Italy. Pp 75

Hofwegen, P.J.M. van and Malano, H.M. 1997. Hydraulic Infrastructure under decentralized and privatized irrigation system management. In German Asso. for Wat. Res. and Land Improvement (Ed.), Deregulation, decentralization and privatization in irrigation: State functions move to the free market. Bonn, Germany: Wirtschafts und Verlagsgesellschaft Gas und Wasser. pp.188-216.

IPTRID. 2001. Guidelines for Benchmarking Performance in the Irrigation and Drainage Sector. Knowledge Synthesis Report 5. IPTRID-Secretariat/FAO. Rome, Italy. Pp: 44

ITIS [Information Techniques for Irrigation Systems]. 1999. Modernization of Irrigation System Operations. Proceedings of the 5th International ITIS Network Meeting. Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India. FAO-RAP Publication 99/43.

Kloezen, W. H., C. Garcés-Restrepo and S.H. Johnson III. 1997. Impact assessment of Irrigation Management Transfer in the Alto Rio Lerma Irrigation District, Mexico. IIMI Research Report No. 15. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Irrigation Management Institute.

Ministerio de Agricultura, Pesca y Alimentación-España. 2002. Especial: Plan Nacional de Regadíos. Agricultura-Revista Agropecuaria. No. 842. Julio-Agosto. Pp 554-615

Malano H & P. V. Hofwegen. 1999. Management of Irrigation and Drainage Systems: A Service Approach. IHE Monograph 3. A.A. Balkema/Rotterdam/Brookfield. 149 pages.

Plusquellec, H. 2002. How Design, Management and Policy Affect the Performance of Irrigation Projects. FAO. Bangkok, Thailand. Pp:156

Renault and Montginoul. 2003. Positive externalities and water service management in Rice Based Irrigation Systems of the Humid Tropics. Ag. Wat. Mgt. Journal, 59 171-189; April.

Wolters, H. W., and C.M. Burt. 1997. Concepts of Modernization. In Modernization of Irrigation Schemes: Past Experiences and Future Options. FAO. Water Report 12, Rome, Italy.

World Bank. 2002. Workshop on Holistic Benchmarking in the Irrigation and Drainage Sector: The Way Forward; Widening and Strengthening Parnerships. (Unpublished handout material). Washington D.C.

World Bank. 1999. Report and Recommendation of the President of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to the Executive Directors on a proposed Loan to the Republic of Indonesia for a Water Resources Sector Adjustment Loan. Washington, D.C.

Contact: water-management@fao.org