June 20, 2019

8 Highly Effective Tips to create successful Water User Associations

Anagha Mahajani, ACFs General Manager (Research & Monitoring) shares key insights into how they achieved local involvement and ownership of 26 PIMs (Participatory Irrigation Management) in a 2 year period in Gujarat. Covering 30 villages and 12443 farmers across 13326 hectares of land, ACF had the role of facilitating and strengthening groups. Based on the collection of key data and analysis, the following factors were found to be the keys to the success or failure of the PIMs under ACF guidance:
1.  Rapport building and generating awareness - In the beginning, local farmers were hesitant to be part of the Water Users Association (WUA). To tackle this, ACF adopted a people-centered approach with a strong belief in their capacities to revive their life, if supported. The interactions of ACF's field team with the local farmers were consistent and meaningful. It helped them understand varied facets of their life situations, concerns and issues. Several informal as well as formal forums were used to clarify the role of ACF and Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) in revitalizing the functioning of the canal system. Other development agendas of ACF such as formation of SHGs; dissemination of knowledge about animal husbandry; health; and sanitation helped broaden the interaction with the communities. Continuous dialogue and ability to connect with people changed the initial distrust among them into improved willingness to communicate and share.
2. Increased ownership led to further strengthening of the process - In most cases WUA members took the complete responsibility of monitoring the actual tasks and hence timely completion was possible. In certain cases repair work was done post receipt of estimated expenditure from Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL). Interestingly, in some cases, WUA members pooled in resources - both human and financial - given that time was of essence and thus got the work done. These processes helped generate interest and brought in a belief among the WUA members that existing situations could be changed. Ramsibhai Waghela from Godavi village said "Repairs had to be carried out, it required about 60,000 rupees. All the members came together to pool in the amount and also put in labour for the repair work to get done immediately. The situation required immediate decision 'Nigam ki rah dekhate to ek phasal nikal jati.'"
3. Quality of leadership - The data gathered by ACF shows that one of the critical factors in the process of PIM is the quality and intent of local leadership. Besides commitment of time, leaders need to demonstrate consistent efforts to connect with people; and ability to balance the interests of the community. A review of existing WUAs revealed that often President and the Secretary were non-functional or non-residents of the area, while in other cases, they were non-cooperative. ACF found that sometimes a single person held positions in two WUAs. In these situations ACF supported the local community in taking a decision for the change in leadership. The data cites incidences of select large farmers overriding the interest of others in WUA across the project area. As a result, small farmers in most WUAs became part of the project only post revival/restructuring of WUAs. A president of a WUA referred to changing mindsets and winning the trust of the people in the community as the most difficult tasks in leadership. The data also cites the required ability for networking, persuasion and follow-up, especially while dealing with different government departments involved in the project.
4. Capacity Building and Skill Enhancement - Managing WUA requires a different skill set. With the change in leadership, orientation of new members to their role became critical. The four committees of administration, water distribution, grievance redressal and construction each had a specific role as conceived by the project. The training of committee members was an integral part of the project. A unique contribution made by ACF in this aspect was exposure visits to model projects of Development Support Centre at Daroi project, training of WUAs at WALMI- Anand, and in bringing technical expertise in construction from volunteers of Ambuja Cement Ltd. to orient the team on technical aspects of ongoing repair. ACF also saw relevance in establishing contact between the WUAs and hence organized regular meetings of leaders/presidents of WUA collectively and encouraged personal interaction between members of different WUAs.
5. Deteriorated status of physical structures and their inefficiency - The field data suggests that it is easy to mobilise the community to undertake minor repairs but extremely deteriorated structures demotivate the community in planning a revival. In the case of some villages, physical structures including minor, sub-minor and tributaries involved major repairs and planning, and actual repair meant heavy contribution and a long construction period. Here, community mobilization became a challenge though in a few cases the community managed it. However in Kanjari village, it became the main cause for WUAs non-revival.
6. Superficial attempt for integrating women in PIM - Women are an integral part of agriculture. However PIM projects often take a narrow-minded approach for involvement of women in the project. The data cites that the distinct PRA and exposure visits for women were just points of compliance since it did not encourage their participation in the main function. Moreover, women and landless farmers were made nominal members of the WUA but their rights and roles were not clarified and hence were unutilized. Overall, the field experiences suggests that special inputs provided to women without strategic plans for integration led to further isolation of marginalized groups.
7. Assumed role of NGOs and resource allocation - The role played by an NGO in terms of capacity building and strengthening is an important component in the PIM project. It requires continuous efforts to build a rapport with the local communities and hence there is a need to allocate for human resources in a fair manner for a justified period of time. The project however under assumes the extent of involvement of NGOs. Therefore, the resultant deficit emerging out of extended human resource had to be borne by the NGO involved.
8. Integrating a broad-based monitoring system - Though the existing monitoring system helps the department to track the progress made by the NGO, it focuses more on the inputs provided to the people. A monitoring system needs to broaden its scope to document the specific changes observed in the field with respect to changing cropping patterns, land under particular crops; and the extent of participation of members of each WUA.

June 20, 2019

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