Water Policy Briefing

HomeThe Water Policy Briefing series presents new perspectives and solutions to water problems in developing countries. Each briefing is based on peer-reviewed research that challenges policy makers and planners to think differently about the way water is managed for agriculture.The series has grown out of research conducted by the IWMI-TATA Water Policy Program in India, which recommends solutions to India’s water crisis. It is now being expanded to provide policy recommendations from the research of the International Water Management Institute and its partners.Current Issues of Water Policy BriefingsBreaking the Cycles of Land Degradation: A case study from Ban Lak Sip, LaosAround the world, intensive farming in fragile environments is taking its toll on natural resources. This has led to greater awareness of the need to use agricultural land sustainably—to maximize yields without compromising the health and productivity of the soil. Laos’ current rural-development and land-use policies were influenced in part by exactly such an environmental agenda. However, a recent study has shown that land degradation has actually increased in the village of Ban Lak Sip since these policies were put in place.Environment Flows Planning for Environmental Water AllocationNew research shows that, in many parts of the world, not enough water is being left in rivers to sustain the valuable environmental services that they provide to society. This is jeopardizing species that depend on fresh water—as well as the livelihoods of farmers, fishers, and downstream communities and water users. Tools have now been developed to help planners establish the water needs of specific environments, even when little data is available. But policymakers need to recognize the urgent need to allocate water to satisfy environmental demands.Planning Groundwater Use for Sustainable Rural DevelopmentGroundwater development in Sri Lanka is intensifying small-scale agriculture and improving the living standards of poor farmers in many areas. Over the last 20 years the number of wells has increased sharply—but groundwater use has so far been completely unregulated. This is a cause for concern. Unless the use of groundwater is managed in a sustainable way, it will have adverse repercussions on the environment and could destabilize the rural economy—as other countries have found, to their cost.Reducing Poverty through intergrated management of groundwater and surface waterBy considering groundwater availability and quality when allocating surface water for irrigation, water managers could improve the equity, sustainability and productivity of irrigated systems.The prevailing situation—where there is separate management of groundwater and surface water—has contributed to land salinization in areas with poor quality groundwater and to low agricultural productivity and high vulnerability for farmers in the tail ends of systems.Integrating fisheries into irrigation planning and managementFisheries, the harvesting of wild fish and other aquatic animals, often play a valuable role in livelihood strategies that is not readily replaced by the development of irrigated agriculture. Despite this, the impacts of irrigation development and management on fisheries are seldom considered. Viewing fisheries and irrigation within an integrated and participatory management framework ensures that livelihoods and food security are enhanced rather than hurt by irrigation development. And it provides an opportunity to increase the overall productivity of irrigation systems—at little additional cost.Irrigation management transfer:How to make it work for Africa’s smallholders?For Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) to be successful in Africa, governments must first enhance the income-creation potential of smallholder irrigated farming by strengthening market access, promoting high-value crops and improving extension and technical support.The Energy-Irrigation NexusA rational flat-rate tariff, combined with restrictions on power supply, could be a powerful tool for the indirect management of both groundwater and energy use—if the two sectors can work together.Confronting the realities of wastewater use in agricultureThe prevailing “scientific” approach to wastewater irrigation advocates treatment before use, and the implementation of strict regulations. Many developing countries cannot afford to build treatment facilities, and do not have the resources to enforce regulations. There are other options, as IWMI research in Mexico and Pakistan demonstrates.Improving water productivity: How do we get more crop per drop?Agriculture consumes 70 % of the world’s developed freshwater supplies. By improving the productivity of water used for agriculture, it is possible to reduce the amount of additional water withdrawals needed to feed the world’s growing population. What steps can policy makers take now? And where should we invest in research for the future?Rethinking Tank RehabilitationBefore renovating an old irrigation tank, take a closer look. You will see that in its current state of disrepair, it provides a valuable set of services to the community, which extend beyond irrigation. The only successful tank rehabilitation strategy is one that looks at all the current socio-ecological activities and their values. Not just irrigation.Addressing the needs of poor farmers Research has revealed that many irrigation management transfer programs have aggravated – rather than reduced – rural poverty. Policy makers need to ensure poor farmers participate equally in the decision-making process if community-managed irrigation programs are to address this failure.Building high-performance knowledge institutions Recent research has identified traits that set high-performance knowledge institutions apart from those that fail to deliver. By applying these concepts to failing organizations we can create world-class institutions for research, policy formation and development.The socio-ecology of groundwaterGroundwater irrigation has surpassed surface irrigation as the primary source of food production and income generation in many rural areas. The key question for policy makers and planners is how to tap this resource without exhausting the supply.The Challenges of Integrated River Basin ManagementThe idea of transferring ‘ready-made’ Integrated River Basin Management solutions from Australia, North America and Europe to developing countries holds great appeal. A review of actual experience, however, suggests effective solutions need to be tailored to fit the realities of developing world basins.Wells and welfareGiving the poor better access to groundwater irrigation: Sustainable approaches and options for the developing world. What can developing countries learn from tube-well programs in India?Innovations in groundwater rechargeThe operation of large canal irrigation systems can be modified to recharge groundwater on a vast scale, reducing the need for new dams and other storage structures.