Surface irrigation system development, infrastructure improvements, and modernization

The range of the interventions for surface irrigation system development and improvements vary from large-scale distribution systems such as in India and Afghanistan to small-scale tank irrigation in Sri Lanka. Even though there had been large investments in the past in irrigation system development, but many of these existing systems are currently plagued by low water productivity, poor maintenance, unreliable water supplies, and the financial burden of subsidized operations and maintenance on governments. The area irrigated by these systems, especially in South Asia, has actually been declining. India and Pakistan alone lost some 5.5 million ha in recent decades as a result of poor maintenance and salinization.

There is substantial scope to improve the performance of these systems, building on past investments to establish service-oriented water controls and services to farmers to meet changing demands. Rehabilitation and improvements in infrastructure and water control facilities are necessary to facilitate the provision of good services to the farmers. The operation and management of the irrigation system are also crucial components to the overall modernization process. There is an urgent need for soft interventions such as institutional reforms to respond to the ineffective results of Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) and Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) for canal management because similar IMT interventions are still an important program component to improve the performance of irrigation systems.

Other than improving on existing irrigation systems, there are potential for irrigation system development as well in parts of Asia where there is either a lack of access to or insufficient water supply. Such a water supply enhancement project will certainly be accompanied by capacity development, appropriate institutional reforms, and proper investment planning.



To assist countries with their investments in future irrigation projects and developments, FAO had originally developed The Investment and Results Monitoring Framework Tool (The Tool) as a diagnostic and planning tool for preparing irrigation sector policy and investment strategies in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America.  Subsequently, other countries such as Uganda, Ghana, and Malaysia have since adopted it as a decision-making tool to formulate irrigation and drainage investment plans and policies.  FAO has recently implemented this Tool in Bangladesh by developing a context-specific investment framework for small-scale surface water irrigation systems. 

 Figure 1: The Three Axes on Investment Framework  

 The Tool provides a policy compliant and neutral space within which to identify and plan program initiatives, independent of or in collaboration with any development partners. It is a method or framework for combining sectoral typologies, development objectives, and time slices in a way that facilitates a diagnosis of the key challenges and opportunities facing a country’s irrigation (and drainage) sector. It facilitates planning and the establishment of cost envelopes while providing a consistent monitoring. Figure 1 shows a 3-dimensional diagram of the investment framework components that defines the development sectoral objectives in one axis, the sector in terms of typology in the other axis, and the times steps associated with the strategic measures in the third axis. This investment framework tool may be used to assist a government to project future finances. However, for this particular function to be fully effective, more precise cost estimates will have to be updated regularly for all the budget lines contained in the framework.



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Land and Water Division, Natural Resources and Environment, Food and Agriculture Organization Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok Thailand 10200

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