The reforms in water institutions in Pakistan, i.e., Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) systems were formulated to achieve high crop productivity, economic efficiency, and equitable distribution of irrigation water among farmers. PIM is recognized as an effective tool for irrigation water management in the developing world [1
]. It devolved decision-making at farmer level to remedy the inefficiencies associated with weak and inefficient institutional management, which was historically overemphasized and overcentralized, thereby less sensitive to ground realities. Over the decades, PIM was observed to be result-oriented with both positive and negative outcomes [2
However, still, there is considerable hope with participatory approaches to irrigation management because such approaches go beyond the day-to-day maintenance and management problems of the irrigation systems and aim to involve sustainability values by managing the behavior of the farmers. This is possible through well-designed institutional arrangements and awareness of all farmers/water users about the objectives of the system and their respective roles and responsibilities [3
Earlier studies carried out in Pakistan have reported somewhat positive outcomes of the PIM in both Sindh and Punjab provinces of Pakistan and observed improved water distribution and better recovery of water charges (Abiyana), e.g., approaching as high as 80 percent of the assessments at prevailing rates [4
]. Moreover, conflict resolution was also observed which improves the water delivery for the tail end farmers on the water outlet (water channel/watercourse/canal). On the other hand, conflicting literature was also found on the performance of PIM and some observed the failure of the PIM approach. According to Singh et al., [1
] these approaches were mainly policy driven, not result-oriented, and overlooked the existing inconsistencies of irrigation water management. This negligence coupled with the dynamics of the socioeconomic characteristics on ground realities affect the proper functioning of PIM.
Another study that was based on 108 case studies from Asia, conducted by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), reported the failure of the conceptual idea behind PIM that was the major reason for its low performance [7
]. According to this study, PIM failed in improving the participation and introduced the public–private partnership in the management of Water Use Associations (WUA), which would be a better option as the farmers’ interests may not necessarily lie in the cooperative actions.
It was reported that these types of WUAs were biased in favor of large farmers [8
]. Large farmers have a great degree of control over irrigation affairs as compared with small and medium sized farmers [9
]. They obtain favorable legislation and appropriation of a major share of water subsidies at the cost of small landholder farmers [11
]. Institutions like World Bank, which once helped Pakistan in post-independence irrigation development, realized that the system may not withstand the bureaucratic inefficiencies witnessed in the form of untargeted irrigation subsidies, low crop assessment and cost recovery, inequitable irrigation distribution, and widespread corruption [11
]. Resultantly it started pushing the country for institutional reforms to transform the irrigation management from a very bureaucratic to a participatory setup having farmers as key actors in service delivery.
A major program of action research was initiated by IWMI [16
], which ultimately resulted in Pakistan devolving its provincial irrigation departments into Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authorities (PIDA) [18
]. In the new system, there were three tiers of water management bodies: at the provincial level, Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authority was the main institution; whereas, Area Water Boards (AWB) and farmer organizations (FO) were the key institutional arrangements for the management for secondary-, and tertiary-level irrigation channels, respectively. Below FOs, WUA and Drainage Beneficiary Groups (DBGs) were also formed [5
The food, water, and energy nexus in irrigated agriculture, as this is the place where the water actually turns into a portion of food, is however improperly and inefficiently managed due to several reasons, including poor groundwater management. This is also happening in Pakistan and Punjab’s water policy that seeks improved irrigation efficiency, water productivity, and sustainable cropping patterns, and is planned to be achieved through agro-ecological zoning, diversification of crops, and head–tail equity [20
Memon and Mustafa [19
] noted that irrigation reforms in Sindh had suffered from implementation delays and so far, the progress has remained suboptimal. Farmer-managed irrigation was only introduced in three AWBs out of 1400. Less than 400 FOs could be formed and managed at a tertiary-level irrigation system with the transfer of management affairs. More importantly, there was virtually no progress on account of drainage system management due to a lack of farmers’ interest.
The equity principle of the water quota system relies on the calculation of outlet dimensions to deliver a specific discharge to each group of farmers that is proportional to the area operated by them [21
]. This is different from what is being practiced in reality. Groups of farmers located in the upper regions of canals and water channels may somewhat breach their outlet (watercourse) to increase the discharge into their fields [22
PIM intends to tap the benefits that normally come under the conceptual lens of social capital and can be used to achieve integrated water management objectives. Savenije and Zaag [23
] defined social capital as “intellectual currency” in form of people’s connections developed over time, based on experiences with each other, and are strengthened when such experiences are based on honesty, commitments, reliable performances, reciprocity, etc. [24
]. Opportunity to decide on various issues in irrigation help farmers get confidence and ultimately benefits from effective water management [25
The analysis of institutional performance is buttressed by New Institutional Economics and other management and governance literature described in detail by Gandhi and others as shown in Figure 1
. In simple terms, the institutional features, i.e., clarity of objectives, alignment between formal and informal institutions, adaptiveness, appropriateness of scale, and compliance are inversely related to transaction costs—high scores on these factors should give rise to water user groups that function more effectively. The additional rationalities are more practical aspects of water user groups and to capture some of the lower-level functioning that appeared important in the earlier case analysis of different water user groups [26
]. Higher scores on the so-called rationalities should correspond with the better performance [27
], but the strength of each in different settings is an empirical question and one which we attempt to address here. In this study, the overall assessment of performance was only estimated through the institutional features; whereas, the concept of ‘rationalities’ for irrigation performance is reserved for future studies. This certainly is the main limitation of this study.
This conceptual model suggests that we can potentially investigate the relationship between institutional features or rationalities and overall performance. It will be challenging to test this model in one empirical study, where the mixing process and variance methods could create bias or instability in estimated results due to the high sample size requirement. However, it is possible to use part of this model for an empirical test. In this study, we investigate the relationship between institutional features and overall performance only. Building on the analysis of existing literature, followed by extensive farmer surveys, this paper analyzes the compliance with the PIM in Pakistan, focusing on Punjab and Sindh provinces. Interview schedules were designed to collect data on institutional features, including compliance, adaptiveness, clarity of objectives, good interaction, and appropriate scale.
The software package SEM Builder by Stata was used to analyze the data. Initially, a test of the reliability of the data scale was conducted. The reliability of the scale is most popularly assessed by the Cronbach alpha method [32
]. It determines the mean correlation or the internal consistency among factors in the questionnaire to assess the question’s reliability. The higher the value of 𝛼, the more reliable the measurement scale used [42
]. However, according to a general rule, the value of 𝛼 must not be less than 0.70 to conclude that the scale being used is reliable [33
]. Table 3
shows the Cronbach 𝛼 values for all institutional factors separately. It is evident from the results that the value of Cronbach 𝛼 is higher than the recommended level of 0.70 in all institutional features except one, i.e., scale/size (SC) variables.
The low level of Cronbach’s alpha for SC shows that some modifications were needed before running the SEM model. Some items of SC needed to be removed to increase Cronbach’s alpha value. Therefore, four items were removed one by one and the alpha value increased to 0.70 (for reference, see Table 4
The constructs of institutional features were developed then modeled together to estimate the values for the conceptual framework shown in Figure 1
. In this setting, a confirmatory SEM estimate was employed. The estimated values, measurement, and structural components of SEM are provided in Figure 3
. There are two kinds of variables: observed variables and latent variables that are illustrated by rectangles and oval shapes, respectively. The circle shapes are presented for measurement errors.
The estimated model results with the significant levels from the Stata program again is presented in Table 5
. The impact of different institutional feature variables (latent variable) was seen in the Overall Assessment Process (OAP) with the help of regression weights. It is evident from the table that the Clear Objective (CO) has a positive significant impact on the OAP, and the regression coefficient value is 0.43. But the Good Interaction (GI) has no significant impact on OAP and the coefficient value is also negative. All other remaining sets of variables, i.e., Adaptation (AD), Scale/Size (SC), and Compliance (COMP) have a positive significant impact on the OAP. The coefficient for the COMP (0.55) factor implied that compliance is the strongest predictor of the overall assessment of performance. The adaptiveness factor coefficient (0.14) is the lowest of four factors affecting the overall assessment of performance.
It can be seen from Figure 3
that each latent variable is connected with the other variables and it denotes that every variable covaries with other variables. In our SEM model, there are six latent variables and the covariance between independent latent variables is represented through 10 observable values as given in Table 6
, and the significance level is represented against each interaction is given in the last two columns of the table.
There were different goodness-of-fit statistics used in literature, but most prominent and valid statistics are chi-square, degree-of-freedom, chi-square to the degree-of-freedom ratio, root-mean-square error approximation, and goodness-of-fit index. It is evident from Table 7
that the model is a good fit and fulfilling the criteria of the five conventional model fit indicators, four meet the requirements for good fit, and the RMSEA value is close to cutoff point 0.06. The information implies that this SEM fits with the data very well.
In order to investigate the differences in the overall assessment of performance, the question here was: “Do farmers of different locations (Sindh and Punjab) differ on the perception of the overall assessment of performance?" This information was provided by Tukey–Kramer pairwise comparisons for detecting a difference between groups of farmers in locations and overall assessment of performance. Results in Table 8
reflect a difference in perception and in the overall assessment of performance as perceived by the farmers in Punjab and Sindh. The Tukey–Kramer comparisons were valued at 4.52 and larger than the critical value (2.77). An inspection of the group means scores (−0.0824 and 0.1084) revealed the lower mean scores of farmers’ perceptions of OAP fall into the Punjab location.
4. Discussion and Concluding Remarks
As mentioned in the preceding section, ongoing efforts to promote or upscale the PIM initiatives in major irrigated areas of Pakistan could not attain the desired results [19
]. The reforms faced challenges from the uneven land ownership pattern, especially in Sindh province of Pakistan, and unwillingness of irrigation departments, mainly from Punjab. Although these initiatives have brought about a positive change in the overall canvas of irrigation management scenarios in Pakistan, reforms require careful review and design modifications. Political will to support the reforms is on top of everything. The study focused on the different institutional features to analyze the causes for the below-average performance of the PIM, which have been able to generate considerable success stories at an early age [6
]. There is a limitation of the study that overall assessment performance of WUAs was only studied through the important institutional features; the rationalities for irrigation performance is kept for future studies.
We used the established tools of institutional assessment especially designed for a situation where the main stakeholders of the newly created institution were farmers. This study employed SEM to analyze the compatibility of different institutional factors with each other and their contribution to improve the overall performance of the WUAs. The use of the SEM approach in this study is the first attempt in Pakistan at least, if not in the World. It makes this study innovative and a valuable contribution to the existing literature on PIM in Pakistan as well as in the World. The cross-sectional data collected for this study are basically the part of the project funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in South Asia. Therefore, this study used a rich dataset across two main irrigated provinces of the country.
Results have clearly indicated that for achieving sustainability in the system, institutional aspects must be taken into account at the design stage of such PIM approaches. It is further evident that farmers respond differently in different situations as apparent in the results of the Tukey–Kramer pairwise comparison test between Punjab and Sindh. Since participatory reforms in both of these provinces were introduced at the same time following similar methodologies and institutional arrangement, these provincial differences suggest that context matters much. These corroborate with findings of theoretical studies such as Crase et al. [44
], which suggests that uniform application of any reform may yield different outcomes depending on the context. Even within similar contexts, different segments of society, e.g., male and female, may have a different perception of institutional performances [45
]. The social structure and cohesion have also a significant impact in farmers’ participation in the process of reforms. These results implied that local situations must be given full consideration while designing and implementing interventions, especially when working in rural areas. Interestingly, “Scale/Size” dimension of institutional features has nonsignificant covariance with all other institutional features. This means that under the existing settings of institutions, relationships with other institutional features became diluted.
On the other hand, most of the independent variables which represented different institutional features behaved in the manner hypothesized in Table 1
. All the institutional features except “Good Interaction” have a significant and positive impact on the overall performance assessment of the Water Institutions, which signifies the importance of effective designing and planning. Clarity of objectives seems significantly correlated with the overall assessment of performance as hypothesized as it helps communities make a reasonable expectation from the newly established institutions. Similarly, adaptiveness also seems positively correlated with better overall assessment of performances as it shows the flexibility among communities to welcome new ideas and improvement in the system. A flexible and adaptive person is supposed to positively assess the institutional performance compared to a rigid person. Appropriate scale and size are also important; smaller-scale institutional arrangements muster better collective action but are expensive to maintain; whereas, collective action is difficult in the larger-scale institutional arrangements but can be very cost effective in their operations. Finally, compliance is the key and perhaps the most important institutional attribute. In fact, one of the major conclusions of property-right regimes research for natural resources management is that there is nothing inherent in the nature of property and the success may lie in the underlying compliance mechanism [48
The data and literature clearly indicate that the reforms process was initially able to deliver better results in terms of collection of water use fees, operation and maintenance of the infrastructure, distribution of water across farmers in head, middle, and tail reaches, and resolution of conflicts or reduction of water-related conflicts. Apparently, farmers were excited for the idea which they thought will solve their problem, but later other forces like large landowners and government officials responsible for irrigation management interfered and sabotaged. Ironically, none of these results that we see today were beyond imagination and prediction as various previous studies carried out during the conception of reforms [51
] and afterwards. Memon and Mustafa [19
] and Mustafa [9
] warned against these likely threats. However, as Memon and Mustafa [19
] also noted, the internal and external push for reform was so powerful that these warnings did not catch any policy attention, and many of those who initially opposed the reforms joined the narrative to later on mold the new system to their advantage.
Therefore, institutional features such as Clear Objectives, Adaptations, Scale/Size, and Compliance should be improved for the proper functioning of the PIM, which will be helpful in achieving its goals. In addition, two important aspects need attention. First, a clear message with well-defined objectives can be communicated to the stakeholders with the appropriate strategy(s) for enhancing the adaptive capacity. These messages need alignment with the existing norms and compliance to the ongoing procedures. Such strategies also need to be dynamic and flexible as one size hardly fits all. Each organization and institution will depend on the context and situation. Secondly, the fears and insecurities of the public sector agency are also to be addressed by engaging its staff in appraising the need for and design of PIM reforms. It may help avoid resistance and harness support to ensure that such stakeholders also own the new system and play their meaningful role in the reforms like PIM.