Efficient participatory irrigation institutions to support productive and sustainable agriculture in South Asia


In south Asia institutional weaknesses substantially reduce efficiency in irrigation by allowing the use of scarce resources in relatively unproductive areas and pursuits. A policy for the sector has emerged that involves simply devolving decisions to farmers. Known as Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) and in some cases Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT), such approaches have yielded mixed results, especially in east India and Pakistan.  Given the vast sums of money being spent on devolving responsibilities and irrigation generally, it would be preferable to determine in advance the potential gains from PIM/IMT and identify the forms of participation that deliver greatest impacts on irrigation efficiency. This will offer a buffer against bio-physical challenges and impact on the intensity and profitability of the agriculture sector, as well as poverty reduction.

This project focusses on irrigation in Bihar and Assam, east India, and Sindh and Punjab provinces, Pakistan. The project aims to improve the analytical skills and understanding of policy makers and irrigation officials, specifically as they relate to PIM/IMT. It will establish the relative efficiency of types of devolved decision-making to farmers and identify how this varies in different settings. It will develop new methods to estimate the magnitude of improvements from PIM/IMT, and link this information to factors that can be observed beforehand. Ultimately, this work will benefit the poor. For instance, striking a better balance between centralised/decentralised decision-making can improve the reliability of water delivery, thereby intensifying production by smallholders, while impacting employment for the landless.

Project objectives

The project has four key objectives:

  • To improve policy makers’ understanding of farmers’ experiences of PIM/IMT;
  • To enhance understanding of what motivates farmers to pay irrigation fees and participate in irrigation upgrades;
  • To identify the key influences of successful devolution at different scales and in different settings; and
  • To engage policy makers in a critical discourse about the usefulness of different forms of PIM/ IMT at different scales and in specific locations.

Project partners

Lead institution

Collaborating institutions


Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR): ADP/2014/045


Prof.Sarah Wheeler

Tagged in Projects:Water policy, Active projects