More jobs per drop : targeting irrigation to poor women and men

B. van Koppen

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


<p><em>Research theme</em><br/>The central theme of this thesis is the relation between irrigation development and gendered poverty alleviation in rural areas in developing countries. The focus is on the role of the irrigation sector. The sector comprises national and international governmental and non-commercial non-governmental agencies which develop irrigation infrastructure. They provide organizational, technical, and financial support to that end and participate in arranging the vesting of rights to the improved resources of irrigated land and water. The research questions concern, firstly, the effects of access by poor men and women to irrigated land and water on both poverty alleviation and productivity; secondly, inclusion and exclusion processes in irrigation; and, thirdly the role of the irrigation sector in these processes. This provides insight into the agencies' targeting of their support, and into the factors that critically contribute to vesting rights to irrigated land and water in poor men and women, and, hence, to poverty alleviation and productivity.</p><p>The analysis explicitly includes rural women. They constitute the majority of the poor. Improvement of their incomes strongly contributes to family welfare and to the reduction of fertility rates. A gender-differentiated analysis requires the distinction of intra-household production units and women's and men's own resource rights.</p><p><em>Method</em><br/>The three research questions are addressed in a review of global literature (Chapter Two, Three and Four), and in two field studies on external irrigation support for rice cultivation. The case in Burkina Faso concerns public irrigation by a state agency. The intervention is accompanied by land expropriation and reallocation. Ten subsequently constructed schemes are studied. Rice cultivation is a female cropping system in the region (Chapter Five). The subject in Bangladesh is NGO-supported private pump ownership by groups of marginal farmers and landless women and men, who use the water for irrigating their own household land and for sale. A country-wide study is made of 52 irrigation groups in which the irrigation loans are taken in women's names. They are supported by six NGOs. Irrigated rice cultivation is a male cropping system there (Chapter Six).</p><p><em>Irrigation, poverty alleviation and productivity</em><br/>Access to irrigated land and water by poor men and women generally improves their well-being (Chapter Two). Water is often a leading input for agricultural intensification, and for stabilization and growth of production during a longer period of the year. It fits the needs of farmers in increasingly smaller holdings. Water sale by smallholders and landless people provides an income, in principle. Remarking these positive effects is not to deny that lack of access to irrigated land and water is only one aspect of the state of multidimensional deprivation which poverty is. Improved access is not necessarily the most urgent need, the sufficient solution, nor the most feasible solution. It is a potential solution for only part of the world's poor. It is a sustainable solution only if the ecological resource base is conserved.</p><p>The field study in Burkina Faso highlights the importance of women's own resource rights for their own well-being and for family welfare, and also for improved productivity. In Bangladesh, however, there appear to be hardly or no economic benefits from water sale for most irrigation groups. On the other hand, the non-economic status of women members of irrigation groups tends to improve, in the sense of women's self-concept and public behavior and their status within the family and the community.</p><p>In many circumstances, access to irrigated land and water by the poor not only alleviates poverty but also leads to higher productivity (Chapter Two). Evidence shows that agricultural output per unit of land in smaller irrigated holdings is higher than in larger holdings. This relative higher productivity may disappear, however, if large farmers adopt large-scale mechanization; secondly, if the poor have limited access to other agricultural inputs; and, thirdly, if income diversification strategies lead the poor to take up employment far from home. There is also considerable evidence in the literature that gender by itself does not effect a farmer's production efficiency. The case studies also indicate the relatively good performance of poor producers and water sellers. In female cropping systems, like rice cultivation by most ethnic groups studied in the Burkina Faso case, women are the main producers.</p><p>Evidence in the literature shows that if larger farmers obtain access to irrigated land and water, this may provide paid employment and a commercial offer of water to smallholders, and thus alleviate poverty indirectly. An increased food supply lowers the food prices. However, the effects are limited since the larger farmers largely set the terms of inclusion. The purchasing power of poor net buyers of food may still be too limited to buy the increased food supply. Poor net producers of food, on the other hand, benefit from high food prices. Moreover, access to irrigated land and water by larger farmers can also be at the direct expense of the poor. Such competition is likely to become more severe with growing water scarcity. Therefore, the irrigation sector contributes optimally to both poverty alleviation and productivity by targeting the poor and avoiding leakage of external support to the non-poor.</p><p><em>Targeting</em><br/>The contribution that the irrigation sector can make to poverty alleviation and increased productivity, given its mandate and core competence, is in vesting rights to irrigated land and water primarily in poor men and women, and redressing existing imbalances in resource rights in favor of the poor. The role of the irrigation sector in providing some users' groups with access to newly developed irrigated land and water, and excluding others, is identified in Chapters Three and Four, and empirically researched in the field studies. The type of irrigation support, the phase of a scheme, and the communication networks at the interface of agency and local people, are important variables in these inclusion and exclusion processes.</p><p>The influence of the agency is especially strong in public irrigation, which is defined as irrigation in which the external agencies bear most of the costs of the infrastructure. Agencies usually have a powerful say in the physical design, and as investors their definition of their own claims and the users' claims to the water tends to be seen as legitimate. In private irrigation the water users are the main investors in the infrastructure. These private investors largely decide on the physical characteristics of the scheme and dispose of the water conveyed. The steering role of agencies is indirect and usually more limited.</p><p>The definition of rights, and the role of agencies, differ according to the phase of a scheme. Usually the most important negotiations on the rights to irrigated land and water take place when infrastructure is newly constructed. Participation in these investments, either in cash or kind, are a firm basis to claim rights to the fruits in later phases, and over the generations. New construction is rare nowadays. Instead, the major redefinition of water rights occurs in irrigation management transfer and rehabilitation programs.</p><p>It is an empirical question in which social fields the expropriation and reallocation of resource rights of users are negotiated under intervention, but, generally, these fields are embedded in the communication networks between local people and external agencies. Processes of inclusion and exclusion of the poor take place in these fields. If the poor are included in these networks, this network is called an 'inclusive forum'. Any new initiative of the agency, such as rehabilitation or irrigation management transfer, entails more or less substantially restructuring the local networks and redefining their competences.</p><p>From the analysis of inclusion and exclusion processes in externally supported irrigation development, according to the literature and as studied in the field, it is concluded that there is considerable scope to improve the performance of the irrigation sector in vesting rights to irrigated land and water primarily in poor men and women, and in avoiding leakage. A combination of the following factors in agencies' targeting approaches appears to be pivotal.</p><p><em>Organizational support</em><br/>Targeting support is only possible if agencies work through inclusive forums at local level, composed of the priority target groups. The earlier these forums are established in an intervention process, the fewer rights become vested in the non-poor, which would hamper the later inclusion of new groups, in particular the poor. Organizational support in creating this forum is required, since poor women and men are usually not organized to that end.</p><p>By now, several governmental and non-governmental irrigation agencies worldwide have succeeded in establishing such forums. These agencies have explicit and clear target group criteria, and adhere to those criteria during implementation. Culturally appropriate forms for effective participation of women in mixed-sex forums are created as well. Women are even the majority of the members of such forums in, for example, NGO-supported groups in Bangladesh.</p><p>Poor people's existing organizations, and their motivation to be included in irrigation development, provide a substantive basis for these inclusive forums. In the later schemes studied in Burkina Faso, inclusive forums with women emerged even in spite of the male-biased targeting approach of the project management, which they had already implemented in earlier schemes. Such inclusion better fitted the prevailing social relations of production, for which the field staff was more receptive than the management.</p><p>A rather poorly documented but important factor in excluding the poor from irrigation development appears to be the tendency of agencies themselves to confine their interactions to the decentralized branches of administrative and technical ministries, and to the local people who have most contacts with these institutions. These communication channels are dominated by the male local elite. By defining irrigation development as a matter of neutral tasks, and by failing to specify <em>who</em> at local level is supposed to participate and to be vested with the rights to these resources, the male elite act as a quick and effective partner in implementing these tasks. Tight implementation schedules and task-oriented reward structures for agencies' staff foster this. Within these task-oriented local networks, the elite easily claim the rights to the newly developed resources. In the early schemes studied in Burkina Faso, women lost their former land rights in this way, whereas men were endowed with rights they traditionally never had. The project's unrealistic concept of the unitary household farm represented by the male head was instrumental in this.</p><p>The social fields in which rights are defined evolve over time as the social fields in which rights are implemented. In the use phase this social field is currently called a water users' organization. Membership of these organizations is closely related to having legitimate rights to irrigated land and water. Exclusion of women implicitly takes place if rights are vested in households, thought to be represented by the male head. Womens' inclusion requires the separate vesting of rights in both men and women. Poor land users with weak land rights are included as potential right holders if water rights are disconnected from land ownership. The recognition of pre-project rights, including those according to local legal systems, as a basis to vest new rights is likely to favor the poor, who, in the past, often lost their former rights without compensation.</p><p>Only through inclusive forums can technical and financial support reach the poor. The types of technical and financial support, in their turn, further shape the organizational support required.</p><p><em>Technical support</em><br/>In public irrigation, the technical support in the construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure entails major inclusion or exclusion processes in two respects. Firstly, the site-selection, layout and division structures heavily influence <em>whose</em> land can be irrigated, and how well. If land tenure in the command area does not change, the physical design directly determines whether the poor or the non-poor obtain access to irrigated land. In the past, the non-poor have often been favored in this way. If land reform in the command area is possible or needed, this usually offers good opportunities to provide primarily the poor with access to irrigated land. However, these opportunities are rarely used. Land expropriation even ousted poor men and especially poor women not only in Burkina Faso but also elsewhere.</p><p>Secondly, agencies in public irrigation can vest users' rights to the newly developed water, and sometimes to irrigated land as well, by arranging co-investments in construction and maintenance work in the form of labor and/or other contributions. An effective means to include the poor is explicitly opening up these opportunities to poor men and women. Timely and transparent procedures better guarantee that investments by the poor are effectively linked to rights. Poor women have often been entirely excluded from these opportunities, or their investments did not lead to rights as they did for men.</p><p>In private irrigation, the poor obtain access to irrigated land and water as owners of equipment if appropriate equipment and energy sources are available. Commercial technology often does not fit these needs, or collective ownership is needed. The latter has been studied in Bangladesh. A free technology choice for optimal adaptation to local conditions, is primordial. Some NGOs develop appropriate equipment for small-scale or individual use.</p><p><em>Financial support</em><br/>Investments in infrastructure are often the most costly part of irrigation. The poor typically lack the access to capital and to longer-term credit facilities that prosperous farmers tend to have. Hence, subsidized investments in public irrigation infrastructure should support the poor especially in obtaining access to irrigated land and water. In reality, however, these funds for irrigated land and water development have often leaked to the well-off. In private irrigation longer-term credit facilities for the poor are primordial. The study in Bangladesh shows that the poor take even substantial risks as soon as these credits are available. Therefore, sound feasibility studies and safety nets are warranted.</p><p>The poorest of the poor tend to be excluded as owners of modern infrastructure, because they lack a minimal regular source of income for long-term repayment of credits. They remain largely dependent on the targeting efforts of irrigation agencies in public and private irrigation, and on the terms of inclusion set by private or semi-private owners of infrastructure, who sell the water.</p><p><strong>Order information</strong></p><p>Ordering copies 'More jobs per drop: targeting irrigation to poor women and men' by Barbara van Koppen<br/>ISBN 90 683201242<br/>Price f 49,-</p><p>Via:<br/>KIT Publishers<br/>Postbus 95001<br/>1090 HA Amsterdam<br/>Tel. 31 20 5688406<br/>Fax31 20 5688286<br/>Email</p><p>Or via:<br/>IT Publications<br/>103-105 Southampton Row<br/>London WC1B 4HH<br/>United Kingdom<br/>Tel 44 171 436 9761<br/>Fax 44 171 436 2013<br/><p>Or via:<br/>Eiron Inc.<br/>P.O. Box 40072<br/>Washington D.C. 20016<br/>USA<br/>Tel 1 202 966 3240<br/>Fax 1 202 244 0913<br/>Email</p>
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Safiliou - Rothschild, C., Promotor, External person
  • Stroosnijder, L., Promotor
Award date8 Sep 1998
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789054859109
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • irrigation
  • poverty
  • participation
  • women
  • national wealth
  • wealth distribution

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