THE PAKISTAN DEVELOPMENT REVIEW
Returns to Facilitating Farmers’ Organisations for Distributary Maintenance: Empirical Results from a Pilot Project in Southern Punjab
Institutional reforms currently underway in Pakistan’s irrigation and drainage sector require that farmers take over the operation and maintenance responsibilities of their secondary canals. However, the farmers need to be organised first, for which investments are a prerequisite. A great deal of skepticism about the farmers’ collective ability and willingness to undertake the needed tasks exists, even now when they are actually organised. This skepticism originates from past experiences when direct subsidies were offered to induce collective action. Theoretically, collective action can be more sustainable if investments are made in capacity building for the tasks that the farmers have to perform to improve the service delivery. Farmers are being organised for distributary operation and maintenance. So far, the delay in formulation of an appropriate legal framework has prevented the irrigation departments from formally transferring the operation and maintenance responsibilities to farmers. Self-help-based maintenance has been the only avenue for farmers to participate in the management of the irrigation system. The paper uses data pertaining to the cost of facilitation and estimates the amount of resources mobilised for two successive years from a pilot project. The analysis shows that investments made for facilitation do pay off. Investment in facilitation returns 69 percent higher than the actual investment per year during the initial years. In the short-run, the returns to facilitation indicate an increasing trend. The paper argues that when compared to previous approaches adopted in Pakistan, investments for facilitation and capacity building have a greater chance of prompting sustainable collective action for irrigation and drainage management.