4.1. Water Governance in Cambodia: Past and Present
Cambodia has a diverse range of freshwater sources, including rivers, streams and lakes, and these contribute to abundant water resources. Of Cambodia’s 181,035 km2
of land, 86% (156,000 km2
) is drained by the Mekong-Tonle Sap system, and on average, the annual inflow of water into Cambodia from the Mekong upstream is estimated to be 410 billion m3
]. About 750 to 790 million m3
of water (10% of the entire country’s available water) is used in Cambodia each year [2
], with agriculture the largest user, accounting for 56% of usage.
Management of water resources in Cambodia has long been centralized by the government and dominated by large-scale irrigation systems, evolved since the Angkor period (9th–14th centuries), the French Protectorate period (1863–1954), the Sihanouk period (1954–1970) and during Khmer Rouge rule (1975–1979), and has continued to dominate ever since [24
]. The current Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC)’s ‘Rectangular Strategy’ has promoted large-scale water management through: (i) Enhancement of the agricultural sector, and (ii) Further rehabilitation and construction of the physical infrastructure [31
About 2525 irrigation schemes were developed across major provinces in Cambodia [32
]. These schemes are categorized into large-scale, medium-scale and small-scale schemes. Large-scale irrigation schemes can be broken down into three further categories based on the land area being irrigated. The first group of large-scale irrigation schemes irrigates more than 10,000 ha, and there are nine of these countrywide. The second group of large-scale schemes includes those which irrigate a land area of between 5000 and 10,000 ha, and there are 22 such schemes in Cambodia. Those schemes in the third group can irrigate between 2000 and 5000 ha, and there are 65 of these. The rest of the schemes fall within the medium- and small-scales. The medium-scale schemes can be broken down into two types: (i) those covering between 1000 and 2000 ha, and (ii) those covering just 500 to 1000 ha. The small-scale irrigation schemes range in size between 500 and 100 ha (Table 1
). Of the irrigation schemes, 1574 do not function at all; 802 schemes function partly and only 149 schemes function well [32
A range of ministries and agencies are involved in water resource management activities. The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MoWRAM) is the leading water sector agency; with overall responsibility for water management and conservation. The Water Law (2007) provides a legal and institutional mandate for the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MoWRAM) to manage water in Cambodia, and ensures accessibility for all people as well as quality and quantity, equitability, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability [33
]. Five strategic areas have been prioritized in order to achieve these priorities: (1) Water resources management, and the development and implementation of irrigation systems, (2) flood and drought management, (3) promoting the law regarding water provision and sustainability, and (4) water resources management and meteorological information.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy (MIME) focuses on providing clean drinking water, while the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD) focuses specifically on providing clean water to rural areas, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) focuses on providing water for agriculture [34
]. The efficient management of the irrigation systems in place is supported by strengthening institutional capacity among the concerned ministries and agencies, and this is a top priority for the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC). Many international donors, such as the World Bank, ADB, JICA, KOICA and Agence Française de Development (AFD) are involved in water resource management, providing financial and technical support to the ministries [26
However, the governance of water in Cambodia has been challenged by weak coordination and overlapping roles of ministries related to water management and it is more concerned with economic growth than the environment, and its governance. Despite the integrated water resource management approach taken, insufficient cooperation takes place among the different ministries and even between different departments within a given ministry. Moreover, even though the MoWRAM is in overall charge of water management and conservation issues, intra-ministerial coordination is weak, meaning there is room for improvement in terms of its management capacity. Data related to water collected by individual ministries should be passed to and be accessible through the MoWRAM, with a master dataset openly available to all the ministries [34
A common cause of operational problems in irrigation schemes is the way they are designed and/or constructed [18
]. Some schemes date back to the Angkorian period [37
], while many others were conceived under the Pol Pot regime during the latter half of the 1970s. Most schemes were not designed to cope in a context of increasing water scarcity in the dry season and with double-cropping becoming more common; most schemes were originally designed and built to provide wet-season supplementary irrigation only [38
]. As a result, these schemes do not retain enough water during the wet season for use later in the dry season [27
]. Flawed designs in relation to hydrological and geographical realities have also contributed to several existing schemes falling into disrepair, with failure already built into the design and/or occurring during construction.
At present, investment in large-scale irrigation schemes in the Cambodian water sector depends heavily on international donors such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the IMF and various UN agencies. Bilateral donors such as the European Union, France (through the AFD), Italy, Japan (through JICA) and Australia, South Korea (through KOICA), Kuwait, Qatar, China and India also make significant contributions to the water management sector in Cambodia [25
]. This donor funding is often used to build “hard” infrastructure such as physical irrigation works, and to conduct extension programs. In Kampong Thom province, the ADB and Agence Française de Development (AFD) are the main donor agencies, providing financial support to the irrigation schemes featured in this study. For example, for the Stung Chinith irrigation scheme, the total project cost of USD 23.8 million was divided between stakeholders as follows: the ADB provided USD 16 million in loans, the AFD gave a USD 2.6 million grant, the Cambodian government provided USD 4.8 million and other beneficiaries gave about USD 0.4 million [16
]. Since 2008, about 26 projects have been financed by donors across ten projects, with grants totaling USD 94.48 million and with loans given for 16 projects with a total budget of USD 1008.2 million.
Thus, water management in Cambodia is dominated by large-scale irrigation systems characterized by the use of a top-down and sectoral approach, requiring a high technical capacity, high costs and state-driven interventions. Such projects seldom involve public participation in the consultation, decision-making and design processes. As a consequence, many large-scale irrigation schemes do not operate in the dry season due to a shortage of water, while many small-scale irrigation systems, such as those suitable for small farmers, have not been built. Hence, the efficient use and governance of water resources continue to be a challenge to Cambodian farmers.
4.2. Decentralized Water Management—Farmers’ Water User Community (FWUC)
In attempting to enhance the effectiveness of water management across the country, RGC has promoted the participation of local communities. Along this line, Cambodia has adopted a Participatory Water Management and Development (PWMD) approach to the planning, development and management of water resources. Policy and instructional frameworks were developed to support the decentalized water management through which the government is developing responsibility for all water management activities, including the regulation of water access, the collection of fees and monitoring [25
The government of Cambodia had developed the Water Law in 2005. Article 19 of the Water Law states that “All farmers using water from the irrigation system or part thereof may form a Farmers’ Water User Community (FWUC)” [40
]. The law and sub-decree give guidance on how the FWUCs should be organized. The FWUCs have to be registered in the Farmers Water User Community registry held by the provincial or municipal directorate of the MoWRAM. After having been registered, an FWUC is fully entitled to carry out activities in accordance with its statutes and is formally recognized [34
FWUCs are established to serve the interests of farmers who have farming land and use water to irrigate their rice fields. They are part of a strategy designed to bring farmers together on the issues of sharing water and building the social capital needed to use water in a sustainable manner. The idea is that in this way the FWUCs help build collective action and solidarity.
Out of 2525 irrigation schemes, only 230 (6.3%) schemes across the country have an FWUC in place (Table 2
), and of those 230, only four (2%) can be considered to be functioning well, though another 84 (36%) have the potential to do so. A well-functioning FWUC is one in which the FWUC committee or its leaders are active in the operation and maintenance of its schemes, and hold regular meetings among members during the year. In addition, irrigation fees are collected by the committee and/or the leaders on a regular basis. An FWUC that could function well is defined as one in which only some committee members and leaders are still active in terms of the operation and management of the relevant irrigation schemes.
The majority (62%) were found to be non-functioning (Table 2
). The plan is that between 2014 and 2018, about 109 FWUCs involving 13,899 famer households will be established, covering 31,948 ha in the wet season and 17,587 ha in the dry season. An FWUC that does not function refers to one in which the leaders are not active [32
However, the participation rate among farmers in the FWUCs is less than 50%. The reasons for such low participation rates include a lack of trust in the government among farmers, low participation rates among local governments, and a lack of finances [34
]. A detailed action plan is needed to help convince farmers to participate in the FWUCs; however, landless people do not have an interest in becoming FWUC members, and in fact in many places landless people only fish, and farming activities often conflict with fishing. Nonetheless, there is limited information available about such conflicts.
4.3. Case Studies of FWUCs in Water Governance
Three case studies were conducted in three different communities that are engaged in water management in three ecological zones in Cambodia—one case study on the Tonle Sap Lake, the second case study on the Tonle Sap River, and the third case study on the Mekong Delta. The Stung Chrey Bak scheme in Kampong Chhnang Province represents the Tonle Sap River that could irrigate 10,367 ha of rice fields and it is classified into seven sub-irrigation schemes. These include the Trapaing Trabek irrigation scheme that irrigates 610 ha and the Taing Krasaing irrigation scheme that could irrigate 5620 ha [41
]. However, the Kampong Pouy scheme, representing the Tonle Sap Lake, could irrigate 6600 ha, covering four communes: Takream, Chrey, O taki and Phnom Sampov in Battambang Province, while the Seang Kveang irrigation scheme could irrigate about 2160 ha of ricefields in Prey Veng Province, representing the Mekong Delta (see Table 3
These case studies examine water governance at lower levels in Cambodia. They study how FWUC is organized, managed and functioned, and how water is managed and shared by community members (Table 3
). The study utilizes the water governance framework to analyze the case studies, particularly the structures and processes of societies that share power, shape individual and collective actions; make decisions; and take actions through the application of responsibility, participation, information availability, transparency, custom and rule of law to use and manage water resources [42
]. The study looks at these dimensions of water governance closely across three different ecological zones in Cambodia.
4.3.1. The Structure of Water Governance by FWUCs
The studied irrigation schemes were built during the Khmer Rouge periods (1975–1979). After the Khmer Rouge, these schemes were dysfunctional and unused, and large parts of the canal systems were damaged due to lack of management and maintenance. Due to security problems, many large irrigation schemes, particularly Stung Chrey Bak and Kamping Pouy were inaccessible. Nonetheless, some parts close to the towns, such as lower part of Stung Chreyback in Kampong Chhnang were secured and rehabilitation took place in 1985 and in Kamping Pouy in 1999. Furthermore, under the Rectangular Strategy of RGC, many irrigation canals and schemes were rehabilitated in the early 2000s, such as Stung Chrey Bak in 2001, Seang Kveang in 2011, and Kamping Pouy in 2014.
The rehabilitation and renovation of irrigation canals and systems has led to management and maintenance needs [43
]. Water governance involves actors and structure, i.e., the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of institutions, markets and government. It also refers to frameworks including culture, law, agreements, materials and technical possibilities, the institutions, the market and the different levels of government within which these operate [13
]. Along this line, the structure of water governance is developed, and part of this structure FWUC is established as a local level structure or a community-based water management organization to manage water in the irrigation schemes through a participatory approach [33
]. FWUCs in Kamping Pouy, Seang Kveang and Stung Chreyback manage water and share it with farmers for farming activities, under the framework and support of MoWRAM (see Table 3
). Meanwhile, at the provincial level, Provincial Department of Water Resources and Meteorology (PDoWRAM) provides direct technical support to FWUCs and is involved in the implementation and management of FWUCs within communities. At the national level, MoWRAM is a key central government agency, providing legal and technical support to FWUCs when established. FWUCs were established in accordance with the guidelines and frameworks provided by MoWRAM.
At the community level, the by-law for each FWUC was developed as a community law to guide and regulate the water uses and its management in each irrigation scheme. The by-law is developed by members of FWUCs in consultation and guidance with MoWRAM, and facilitated by PDoWRAM. When completed, the by-law is approved and registered by MoWRAM. Without that, the FWUC is not recognized. Following the approval and recognition by MoWRAM, the FWUC is organized to manage water in the irrigation schemes. In doing so, the FWUC has to follow the rules and regulations set by MoWRAM and its by-laws. In addition, the FWUC has to report to MoWRAM and PDoWRAM. Thus, the FWUC is characterized as a centralized management system that functions as an arm of MoWRAM.
4.3.2. The Process of Water Governance in FWUCs
The schemes irrigate large land areas, and so, in many cases, they involve many villages, in which many villagers are members of FWUCs. Water governance in each of these schemes is a process of interaction or a series of actions or steps under the arranged structures with defined roles and responsibility based on policy, laws, agreements, materials and technical possibilities in order to achieve a particular end [13
]. Furthermore, it is a process of dialogue, negotiation and decision-making, involving a wide range of actors, and between upstream and downstream communities. This process is facilitated by mechanisms or institutions such as MoWRAM/PDoWRAM that are at the centre of how community members cooperate to use waters and it involves water allocation, creation and management of water infrastructure and implementation of protection, monitoring and assessment of water quality and quantity [17
Communities in the study areas have engaged in a long process of dialogue and negotiation over the access and uses of water. In Stung Chreybak, the conflicts between upstream and downstream communities led to the management of water failing over 10 years between 2000 and 2010, and it took a long process and great efforts to bring communities to communicate over the sharing of water, and negotiate the procedures to open up the water and release water downstream. The same happened in Kamping Pouy and Seang Kveang where communities surrounding the irrigation schemes competed for water, leading to poor maintenance and broken dikes, for instance in Kamping Pouy in 2010. This happened through the facilitation provided by PDoWRAM and local governments such as commune administrations and NGOs.
The dialogues and negotiations enable different downstream and upstream communities to work together to manage the river basins and schemes and share water. The establishment of FWUCs was the result of dialogues and negotiations. However, the dialogue and negotiation did not end there; it continues throughout the process of water governance until FWUC members receive water for farming. More importantly, the by-law development involves FWUC members from the discussion of articles in by-law through to the approval by MoWRAM. It took FWUC members from 2 to 3 years to complete it and it is done through an engagement, dialogue and negotiations.
The management of FWUC is guided by the community by-law that details the management system, the leadership, the decision-making and the sharing of benefits. In doing so, members of FWUCs elect their representatives to sit on the committee and to handle the management of water, the distribution of water, the sharing of the benefits and the maintenance of the schemes. Nonetheless, more than one village uses the water from each scheme and so, representatives from each village elect their representatives to sit on the committee. There are at least about 5–12 people who sit as committee members, and this comprises the chairman, the treasurer, and the members. The FWUC committee in Seang Kveang comprises five permanent members, including two women, elected by villagers and facilitated by the commune councils and each village headman. In Kamping Pouy, there are four executive management members in the FWUCs and 43 sub-groups representing four communes. There were around 115 female members, while Stung Chrey Bak has five committee members who work to lead the FWUCs. These Committees work to operate the irrigation schemes and allocate water to farmers to irrigate their farming fields.
Members of FWUCs from different villages, either upstream or downstream, near or far from the canals or water gates, negotiate their positions and make sure that FWUC committees distribute water fairly, equitably and timely. These negotiations require a strong facilitation process and powerful respected bodies to make fair decisions and the participation and agreement of all members. Members of FWUCs are involved in the process of negotiation and discussion over the close and open of the water gates. They also negotiate the times and schedules to open the water gates of the irrigation schemes when they cultivate rice, and to close it when there is too much water that could flood or spoil their ricefields, or when they harvest the rice. The negotiation between the downstream and upstream river communities such as in Stung Chreybak and Kimping Pouy improves the water sharing process between downstream and upstream communities, between farmers with farmlands close to and far from the reservoirs. The negotiation has reduced the conflicts between farmers, between villages and within villages such as the case of Seang Kveang and Stung Chreybak.
Members of FWUCs also negotiate the water fees and the times to pay the fee. FWUC committee members collect water fees from farmers, particularly after rice harvest. About 60% of FWUC members pay the water fees on time, while about 40% did not, depending on the yields and the returns from rice farming, and 80% of FWUC members pay the water fees, and 20% did not pay, as they argue that they farm in the wet seasons, and rely on rainfalls.
The water fee per hectare of rice field varies from scheme to scheme, but it is about 10,000–400,000 riel/ha, depending on the location of the farmer fields, upstream or downstream, close to or far from the schemes. In the Kamping Pouy scheme, the water fee is varied between past and present. Between 2000 and 2002, the water fee was paid in rice, estimated at about 150 kg per ha. However, since 2002, they changed it to cash, about 40,000 riel/ha (US$10/ha). The water fees are managed by the FWUC’s Committee and then used to fund two key activities: (i) 70% is used for operating and maintaining the scheme and (ii) 30% is used to support the FWUC’s activities. The money given to the FWUC (30%) is further divided into two: (a) 5% to support the FWUC committee/office and (b) 25% to incentivize fee collection task force members to do their job effectively. A bank account is set up to keep the funds collected from farmers, and the bank transaction has to receive the approval of the committees.
In Seang Kveang, the water fee is charged at the rate of 10,000 riel/ha/crop for the paddy fields near the canal. However, those whose paddy fields are further away pay 5000 riel/ha. The household furthest away pays only 3000 riel/ha. This is very similar to the Stung Chrey Bak, where those fields close to canals would pay around 10,000 riel/ha/crop; but those fields far apart would pay 6000 riel/ha/crop. Moreover, the water fee is not regularly paid, depending on the rice yields, and so, not all farmers who use the water paid the fee, contributing to a shortage of funds for canal rehabilitation and maintenance.
FWUCs also work with relevant stakeholders at the local and provincial levels and seek technical and financial support from these stakeholders aiming at contributing to the management of water in a given FWUC’s areas. Many FWUCs receive financial, technical and management support from NGOs. NGOs, in most cases, receive funding from funding organizations to support FWUCs in carrying out their water management functions, for example, Seang Kveang FWUC received support from Community Resource Improvement for Development (CRID), Stung Chrey Bak from American Friend Service Committee (AFSC); and Kamping Pouy from ADB. Nonetheless, most NGOs do not possess the technical capacity with respect to water management, but rather are adept at community organization and development. In carrying out water governance activities at the community level, FWUCs work with PDoWRAM, and line agencies. Also, relationships with other key local players, such as commune councils, add a further layer of complexity and support (through merged memberships) FWUCs’ level of authority [26
However, FWUCs also lack formal conflict resolution mechanisms, and cannot take measures against non-compliant farmers such as water conflicts between upstream and downstream farmers, and non-paid water fees from farmers; but they rely on PDoWRAM and commune councils to handle their conflicts. A failure to coordinate with line agencies means that FWUCs cannot enforce their rules on water allocation, and this causes farmers to become less interested in participating in the FWUCs’ activities. Instead, they turn to the commune councils to resolve any water-use conflicts that occur. FWUCs’ independence is further weakened by their dependence on local political actors, as most FWUC activities are implemented under the direction of the commune chief, who is normally a highly political actor. A lack of human resources and technical capacity within the FWUCs themselves is a major reason for this dependence on external actors [25
]. Farmers often do not appreciate the importance of regularly maintaining modern irrigation schemes; their high maintenance costs mean that some farmers think that irrigation systems built during the Pol Pot period were better, as they were simple and easier to operate and maintain.
4.3.3. The Operation and Maintenance of the Infrastructure within FWUCs
The studied schemes experience abundant water resources in the wet season, but shortage of water in the dry season. The management of too much and too little water has been a key challenge in water-dependent communities such as in the stud areas in terms of flash floods in the wet season and drought in some parts of the schemes in the dry season. Thus, operation and maintenance of the schemes with the participation of FWUC members would address the issues of floods and droughts.
Each scheme has canals and reservoirs. The canal is branched into the main canals, the secondary canals and tertiary canals; however, the secondary and tertiary canals are not well-established and rehabilitated and so, water does not reach the further away ricefields, causing conflicts with farmers in the remote ricefields. In the study schemes, it is not recognized whether it is the secondary or tertiary canals, since it is not well-managed. Moreover, each study scheme has well-structured reservoirs with water gates constructed to store and to release water. The study found that, on the one hand, the canals and irrigation schemes have increased the water flows to a reservoir and storage; and further down to the ricefields. These systems help reduce the floods or flash floods in the areas and increased the water availability for the dry season uses. On the other hand, every farmer could access water in the schemes, and the establishment of FWUCs has enabled them to participate and manage water for their benefits. In addition, FWUCs have provided a framework and guidance to farmers to distribute and share water for agriculture. These benefits have improved access to water and there is water availability in the schemes.
The operation of the schemes is a key part of water governance. The community by-law details the operation, the roles and responsibilities of committees, members of FWUCs and users. However, the operation of the schemes has to comply with the policies of MoWRAM. The opening up of water gates, the release of water, and the closing of the water gates are key operation practices in water governance in the study schemes. Many villages that share the schemes encounter difficulties in reaching agreements on when to open up and close the water gates. In Seang Kveang, the opening up of water gates and the release of water downstream would cause drought upstream in the dry season, but the shutting up of water gates in the wet season would inundate the ricefields of upstream communities. In Stung Chreyback, the downstream communities in Trapaeng Trabek and Chrey Bak have to work out the schedules with Tang Krasang communities regarding when to open up the water gates, particularly in the dry season. Without that, their ricefields would be spoiled and damaged. In Kamping Pouy, the operation of the scheme faces critical challenges as it is a huge scheme involving many villages. Without technical and financial support from PDoWRAM and NGOs, the operation of opening up and shutting up of water gates would not be regular, thus affecting the rice farming of many villages downstream of Kamping Pouy reservoir. Hence, water governance is complex and it needs consensus between different groups—beneficiaries, technical agencies, local governments and other stakeholders. It needs to engage different actors in the discussion, negotiation, operation, planning and monitoring throughout the process.
Maintenance of irrigation schemes, the canals and reservoirs is a critical part of water governance. Without that, water governance is impossible. This maintenance requires the participation of all stakeholders, including members of FWUCs, local governments, MoWRAM, PDoWRAM, NGOs and relevant stakeholders to protect, maintain and operate the schemes for the benefit of communities and government at all levels. The committee of the FWUC plays important roles in ensuring the scheme is well-managed and maintained. To achieve this, first, the committee is responsible for collecting the water fees from its members and managing them for the benefit of its members. Second, the FWUC committee oversees the uses of water and the management of irrigation, particularly, mobilizing labor to repair or rehabilitate the canals that are broken up, and so, water fees are used to support those activities. Third, FWUC committees and their members coordinate the construction and maintenance of roads alongside the canal, as well as water gates. Fourth, apart from the above, the committee members mobilize villagers for meetings to discuss the management issues and propose the plan of action.
In maintenance services, mobilizing members and delivering activities, committee members work on a voluntary basis. The elected FWUC committee members work for the interests of FWUC members without financial support. While the water governance of FWUCs is under way and functions as planned; many issues such as water distribution between upstream and downstream, maintenance and management of the canal and schemes, and the payment for water uses among members remain unresolved . Generally, the water governance has been challenged by the lack of focus on roles and responsibility, particularly with regards to distributing water equitably, effectively, and efficiently to members of FWUCs; however, challenges mostly concern mediation between farmers and PDoWRAM in administrative procedures and processes to comply with the MoWRAM procedure and frameworks.
Generally, in the operation of the study schemes, water gates are opened to release water from the schemes as and when FWUC members need it, rather than based on any particular plan or methodology for releasing water. However, when water is not released on time, tensions arise between farmers and FWUCs. This means that farmers end up competing among themselves over access to water to irrigate their fields. In addition, there are no clear procedures and methods in place on how to allocate water between those rice fields located close to and distant from the schemes. Furthermore, operation of the schemes tends to run into problems due to technical issues whose origins are related to the schemes’ designs and construction. Thus, without improving and upgrading the rules, regulations, process and procedures regarding how FWUCs operate and maintain their schemes, these issues continue to act as a barrier to effective FWUC performance and well managed irrigation schemes.
4.3.4. Challenges and Opportunities for Water Governance via FWUCs
Even though water availability prevails in the studied schemes following the development of the irrigation system, water shortage is still an issue. The study found that little water remained in the schemes in the dry season, and so, the farmland was left uncultured for about 6 months in each year. At the same time, over the river system, for instance, Stung Chrey Bak, sub-irrigation schemes are built to tap water for different uses in different parts of the river system and so, water availability has been diverted to different parts across the river system, affecting the water distribution between upstream and downstream and causing conflicts among water user communities.
The research shows that in the dry season, the general degree of coordination in FWUCs in Kamping Pouy, Stung Chreyback and Seang Kveang, is poor both within and among irrigation schemes. At the scheme level, coordination issues manifest themselves in the relationships that exist between farmers, between farmers and FWUCs and within the FWUCs themselves. Also, the different water demand schedules that existed create problems when it comes to coordinating planting schedules, and this kind of problem is most pronounced in larger schemes such as the Kamping Pouy and Stung Chreybak schemes. The study found situations in which farmers do not want others to have access to water, so do not allow farmers whose land is a long way from the irrigation scheme to run a pipe through their land. Coordination within large schemes is even more problematic, as such schemes often involve many different villages and FWUCs. For example, the FWUC in Kamping Puoy is highly complex as it has 64 members divided into 15 groups, and each group covers about 400 households. The Stung Chrey Bak scheme is also complex, as it irrigates 10,367 ha, benefits 2300 households and covers 15 villages. In the large schemes like these, FWUC members have to travel a long distance to meetings, and so attendance has tended to drop in the face of farmer apathy. In light of this finding, more research should be commissioned to help develop a framework that guides coordination within and among FWUCs.
The study found that these mechanisms and challenges have not helped improve the performance of FWUCs. Rather, they contribute to a low level of trust and a poor level of public service delivery of most FWUCs for most farmers and their neighboring upstream and downstream farmers. This situation has affected the performance of the FWUCs in key tasks, such as maintaining infrastructure, allocating water, and collecting irrigation service fees. The FWUCs’ level of performance is also very inconsistent, as the following shows.
The use of hydrological knowledge and community participation to improve decision-making on water allocation indicates that a fragmented irrigation management situation has arisen due to a lack of coordination between FWUCs and the water user sector. The development of the irrigation sector has been single-sector oriented and ad-hoc. Many irrigation schemes were constructed during the 1980s and 1990s with assistance from international organizations, and the main purpose of irrigation infrastructure at that time was to increase food security and reduce poverty. However, these developments failed to establish any form of catchment management mechanism; the FWUCs and commune councilors were focused only on their own local schemes. The FWUCs for these schemes now plant their crops individually, without consulting each other, and as a result, the allocation of water is not properly planned or managed, with some dry season crops lost due to a shortage of water. Thus, developing a better level of understanding of the spatial and temporal aspects of water flows is likely to improve catchment planning.
The district authorities rarely communicate with FWUCs unless they are directly asked for help with water related conflicts. The PDoWRAMs help resolve conflicts by looking at water availability across schemes and trying to adjust flows, but with limited infrastructure, financial and technical support, PDoWRAM cannot assist FWUCs in any effective and timely way. As a result, many farmers have limited access to irrigation and the potential benefits of the schemes are lost. Improving coordination at the provincial level is therefore key to the effective development and management of water resources at the scheme level.
This study has found that in the early stages of FWUC creation, members’ roles were clearly identified, but that due to problems with living conditions and the low level of coordination that exists among FWUC members and farmers, many FWUC members have given-up their roles. Village chiefs and commune leaders now lead most of the FWUCs, meaning that farmers and FWUC members are sometimes viewed as passive or even dependent stakeholders. In light of this, farmers and FWUCs hold relatively little power, despite having a legitimate and urgent interest in the outcome of irrigation scheme management activities. During periods of both wet and dry season rice cultivation, farmers report their water demands to the FWUC leaders, who then ask the FWUC committee to release water from the secondary canals into the tertiary canals. When there are water shortages in the secondary canals, the relevant FWUC should contact PDOWRAM, for it to release water from the main canal into the secondary canal.