| Design and operation of smallholder irrigation in South Asia |
|Chapter 2 - Profile of the smallholder|
The character of the individual smallholder in matters affecting irrigation and the nature of the village social structure are too diverse to allow anything but a few general observations. It should be noted that the term "village" as used here denotes an area which includes a group of dwellings (a village in the more popular sense) together with an associated area of farming lands. It is a political and social entity. The operation of a village irrigation system, owned and operated by the community, is often taken as the reference point on which to base the design of water-user groups in larger publicly-owned projects. The popular opinion that farmer-owned village irrigation systems operate very well and publicly-owned systems operate very poorly is not always supported by the evidence, but the history of the village system does give an indication as to what a smallholder and his peers will or will not do if left to their own. At one end of the scale of performance the village systems do very well, using much ingenuity in coping with very variable seasonal supply of water, and producing a wide diversity of crops within a small area. Communal interest is put before the interest of the individual. Such performance requires a close social structure or a long tradition of authoritarian village leadership. At the other end of the scale, particularly where the traditional village authority has broken down under the influence of changing times, performance can be very poor.
In publicly-owned irrigation systems the farmer viewpoint changes radically. The interest of the individual and his family becomes the primary concern, and the interest of the group becomes secondary. Much attention has been given to the merits of delivery from a publicly-managed system to a farmer-managed unit, such as the service area (the "command") of a secondary or tertiary canal. The issue is whether an area managed by beneficiary cultivators, but supplied from a public canal, will be regarded by the cultivators as their own and treated with the same respect. Although management of water distribution within the tertiary command, and eventually the secondary, by water user groups is highly desirable, in fact cultivators are not generally convinced that the system within such an area is fully their own and should therefore be treated in the same manner as a village system. For one thing the supply of water to the area remains outside of their control (unless cultivator management is extended upstream to the primary canal, which may or may not be practical). There are notable exceptions, but in general if government is in any way a partner in the irrigation of an area, cultivators appear to believe that government should assume all responsibility down to the farm turnout. A similar problem is encountered if any outside assistance, other than simply funds, is provided for the improvement of village systems. The problem of cultivator attitude to any intervention by government, and his readiness to drop responsibility for maintenance in the lap of government as soon as there is any such intervention, must be acknowledged and lived with, even if not fully understood or appreciated. Means of overcoming this attitude are still being sought.