Myanmar irrigation governance system has been encouraging the indigenous farmers' cooperative participation in water governance in furtherance of equitable and efficient water accessible distribution in agricultural sector. A marvellous accomplishment of establishing user based participatory management association in Pywat Ywar pump based irrigation project (PYPIP) in the year 2019 then has become one of the milestones in Myanmar irrigation history.

We held an interview with Ko Nyan Thiha who largely contributed in setting up an institutional water management of Pywat Ywar pump based irrigation project as a community engagement specialist. In this Interview with Ko Nyan Thiha, you will read how water users association works, his experience and struggles that he has gained from the project and advices for the future irrigation community.

Building Farmer-led Management Association 

Organizing water users associations

Two years and a half period of implementation the Pywat Ywar pump based irrigation project (PYPIP) mainly encompasses two sectors: rehabilitation of irrigation scheme infrastructure and the establishment of local water users association. Organizing a farmer-led association which is the major part of the project for the purposes of raising voices for their needs, concerns and rights and their representation and coordination in managing water availability requires a great effort of all the responsible members and farmers.

Ko Nyan Thiha has accepted that the agreement among the water users was vital when they were about to use the exact same source of water for their farms. He has made all-out effort to reach an agreement among them as the first stage of building a community. He has facilitated a series of meetings and workshops to convince all the farmers from five villages which were included in the projected area. Throughout the discussions, he had to coordinate with the farmers and administrators of the villages on helping them to understand the tasks of water users groups and letting them cooperate willingly in decision making processes. Here, he also came to know the work of coordination and ways to approach the local people while setting up a community in consequence of his work as a community engagement specialist.

"As this is the farmer-led management of water utilization, I only have to give suggestions for their cropping methods and water distribution management. The decision making is in their hands," Ko Nyan Thiha said dealing with the functions of water users group. 

Apart from understanding integrated approach strategies for establishing water users groups, Ko Nyan Thiha has additionally learnt some useful technical knowledge of the pump based irrigation system. He has gotten to know the capabilities of machines which would draw water from Mu river and the rate of water losses which could be happened during transportation of it and some other basic technical facts and figures. Through his technical knowledge, comprehension of crops production and cropping methods, he has successfully built a fair and equitable water distribution scheme together with the local water users association. 

Approaching Better Understanding of Canal Act 

"Lack of knowledge and the understanding of the irrigation canal law is one of the difficulties," Ko Nyan Thiha added when he shared some of the encountered challenges concerning with this issue during Pywat Ywar project.

Despite the fact that Myanmar has enacted an irrigation canal law 2017, farmers still have no clear understanding of the rules and instructions. There were also agricultural water related conflicts among the indigenous farmers and all these causes were the absence of the awareness of legalization. To address this issue, he had to consult with the regional administrators and responsible persons to establish the ground rules, regulations, and responsibilities which each and every water user needs to follow and penalties for those who break the rules in accordance with the canal law. Educating and training farmers through workshops, sharing pamphlets and implementing posters were the next stages to ensure the practice of legal principles.

"The current enacted canal law is excellent but it still needs to be comprehended by the indigenous farmers. That is why the respective responsible persons should have clarified about the law in their own individual languages for various ethnic farmers groups and helped them to follow the rules," Ko Nyan Thiha spoke out his optimistic advice. 

Implementing Systematic Water Conveying Method 

Pywat Ywar Pump Based Irrigation Project

In most regions of Myanmar, the usual irrigation water delivery procedure is outpay method which is remarkably advantageous technique. The outpay method provides water to the furthermost farms of the respective canal segment first and drains back when the required depth of inflow is supplied. This way of water supply would be such a beneficial and time-saving method as long as the dams were filled with sufficient amount of water. Contrary to the irrigation outpay method from dams, pump based irrigation might involve with conflicts and challenges when it mainly depends on river water, electricity and the condition of machines.

Seeing the confrontation between the farmers themselves and operators when the electricity was cut off or the machines were broken down, Ko Nyan Thiha had to put in the effort in negotiating with farmers communities to develop mutual understanding among them and ensuring the water distribution method did not fail. All his concerted efforts finally came into fruition and the farmers are now cooperating in practicing the systematic way of water supply.

"The reason why outpay method is becoming a failure is the inadequacy of follow up actions. As the time passes by, the circumstances of the region change and the follow up investigations is needed, if not, the plan will never be succeeded," Ko Nyan Thiha also delivered a considered opinion on maintaining the outpay irrigation method. 

Advices for Upcoming Irrigation Plans 

What he firmly believes is that Pywat Ywar project would bring more achievements if WUA (water users associations) were already in place before rehabilitation so that the WUA would have co-supervised the rehabilitation. This is possible in the future given as WUA are implemented throughout the country. This would help the WUA to be capable of operating and monitoring whether in constructing infrastructure process or managing water distribution process together with the project facilitators.

"The local people know more about their land and the problems being faced than us and so, in this kind of pump based irrigation system, establishing water users association should have started from the beginning of the project. And with the coordination of farmers as sub-party, we could implement the project in better ways," Ko Nyan Thiha added this as his advice hoping for the enhancement of the upcoming irrigation projects. 

Related Documents – Myanmar Irrigation Canal Law 2017

Written by Thidar Maung Maung