Summary and Dialogues of Episode 1 - Let's Talks about Farmer-led Water Sharing System in Myanmar


On 26th of June, 2020, Myanmar Water Portal has initiated Let's Talk About Water – Talk show Episode 1 with guest speakers, Dr. Petra Schmitter and Sanjiv de Silva from International Water Management Institute (IWMI) – Myanmar. Hosted by Kyaw Nyunt Linn, a communication manager of The Water Agency, the talk show was called Farmer-led Water Sharing System in Myanmar which refers to theme of establishing Water Users Associations in Myanmar.

Dr. Petra Schmitter, is a Senior Researcher at the International Water Management Institute and leads the Research Group on Sustainable and Resilient Food Production Systems. She has over 14 years' experience in testing and adapting water solutions for farmers to improve their agricultural resilience and to measure the impact of scaling those solutions on water resource availability and quality at different scales. She is based in Myanmar and has recently led the Pyawt Ywar Pump Based Irrigation Project in the Central Dry Zone funded by Livelihoods and Food Security Fund.

Sanjiv is a researcher in the field of Natural Resources Governance from International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Myanmar. He has over 20 years' experience in natural resources governance in Asia. He was the institutions specialist in rehabilitating the pump irrigation scheme at Pywat Ywar and establishing a water user association to implement Myanmar's Guidelines on Participatory Irrigation Management.

Understanding that, sharing natural resources such as water, food, land, energy and wind is essential for every human being. As human civilization arises, managing these resources are hard to practice. Although we exploit the same resource in a particular region, habitats require to maintain their relationship and share well-beings mutually.

Therefore, discussion had been made about Water User Associations (WUAs) comprising water users who share a common source of irrigation. Water users may require water for farming such as agricultural or livestock and domestic purposes. WUAs are intended to improve irrigation performance through increased farmer participation and involvement in irrigation scheme management. In addition, it is supposed to lead to more sustainable water use and more equitable sharing of the benefits.

In this talk show, the first speaker, Petra Schmitter, shared the Pyawt Ywar Pump Irrigation project which is one of more than 300 such projects (PIPs) implemented by the Government of Myanmar as part of its strategy to increase agricultural production. Secondly, Sanjiv de Silva presented key messages from the experiences of establishing the Water User Association in Pyawt Ywar Pump Irrigation Scheme.

Afterwards, there were the dialogues between guest speakers, host and participants during the talk show. So, there will be the next episode of the talk show with different topics, so please keep in touch on the Myanmar Water Portal.

Here are

  • the dialogues during the talk show
  • the presentation of The Water User Association in Pyawt Ywar Pump Irrigation Scheme below.


Kyaw – if there is water pollution in the river, how can water user association can take action towards this issue?

Sanjiv – Water pollution is a very broad topic and a difficult challenge. In dry zone of Myanmar, a lot of pump irrigation schemes rely on rivers. Pollution is a non-point source phenomenon; there is a great diversity of contributors for pollution along the river system. It's one of the most challenging requirements for WUAs to try to tackle the problem in itself. It's fundamentally not the role of WUAs to do this. However, perhaps if there was a federated system of WUAs, maybe they could have some influence, but it is not really their role.

Kyaw – How did you captivate their attention to join public consultation?

Sanjiv – We have a field team responsible to understand who we are working with, what their lives are about, what we can reasonably expect from them and that involves understanding of when in a day would be reasonable to expect people to really participate. I also need to give a lot of credit to field coordinator, Nyan Thiha, who I hope you will actually interview. He is really outstanding and knowledgeable of farming community to really generate leadership and a sense of following amongst farmers. So, my point is "if you want to build up relationship with them, it is important to explain your purpose clearly and respect them. And developing relationship with community and community leaders was one of the reasons why we were able to get great participation. Also, the promise of better irrigation performance was of course of great interest to them."

Q (Participant) - I am even wondering if it's in the interest of such association depending on how they are aware of water pollution. It could be non-point pollution. The question is how a concerned entity can response to such pollution issue (nonpoint or distributed source). What is the existing legal basis for that?

Sanjiv– Fist of all, there needs to be an awareness of which agency is responsible for managing pollution. So, you would contact the Ministry of Environment, I would imagine, and take up the issue. But, there could also be more influence by WUAs if they are federated so it will be the voices of a number of WUAs acting together. It's not an easy question to answer to be honest.

Q (Participant) – Can you recall a specific moment in the process when you really start to realize that the community will be catching on with the approach?

Sanjiv – Two things, the number of people who attended and the level of engagement in the planning processes. For example, the farmers showed great interest in selecting their own leaders and making their own rules about how water should be managed and shared. The engagement level was one of the best indicator that these people are taking these seriously and it really matters to them. It's really important to get the village leadership on board to make sure that it is clear to the others that they are also supporting the process.

Petra – I had two moments; during and after the project. During the project was when the different leaders as well as water users for holding each other accountable. So, when things were not running to everybody's satisfaction and some would try to roll it back to earlier privileges and others would be calling them out. That was the first moment when I feel like they really are serious and willing to speak up.

Kyaw – Facebook could be one of the tools for public consultation.

Petra – We have to be very conscious that not everybody owns the cellphone and sufficient access to data. Even within the household, there can be different access. I would say that it is a tool and a approach to increase a certain part of the population of the water users, but it's not a single approach.

Q – How do you ensure that we avoid elite capture in these types of WUAs and ensure social inclusion?

Sanjiv – It's a hard thing to do. We are always struggling with it. It is so prevalent in many countries. The first point is how well we understand what is really going on in a community, and the second point is that elite capture is very invisible and discrete. It is important to know who is involved in elite capture, how we can leverage the voices of other stakeholders the counter the power of the elites. So, we made sure that everybody was participating in the process and the rules that were set are agreed, commonly understood, and visible. Creating a platform through the WUA for issues to be discussed helped to maintain transparency and made elite behavior more difficult. But there is no one approach, it's a combination of good process, applying principles of good governance, understanding the community which we are working in, and trying to develop inclusive institutional structures.

Kyaw – what is your thought of this system from your side?

Nyan Thiha (attended as a participant, a field coordinator of Pyawt Ywar Pump Based Irrigation Project) – Since our country is moving towards democracy, farmers also set their right to manage their own water. So, this movement is the right time and right condition for our country. But farmers need to be patient and respects a bit more towards like village to village. If every association can link, they can manage water very well.

Q – What are your suggestions for Myanmar government and local community to be able to achieve sustainable WUAs with much cheaper price? (Assuming achieving a WUA is costly and the cost plays a major role in the formation of WUAs/WUGs?

Petra – It doesn't necessarily have to be costly in this sense. May be explaining to villages on what they can do, how they can do about it, train them and then monitor can reduce some of the cost and burden. Sometimes, bottom-up approach has to be a bit loose.

Sanjiv – it is partly a question of scale. WUGs involving smaller groups of farmers may be easier and no require a lot of funding. But it is difficult to see short-cuts in the larger and more complex schemes, especially where social conflict has occurred in the past. But whether big or small, the same principles of good governance should be followed.

Written by Kyaw Nyunt Linn | Myanmar Water Portal & Sanjiv de Silva | IWMI - Myanmar

Note Taken by Thinzar Mon | Myanmar Water Portal

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