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Decentralisation, Recentralisation and Irrigated Farmers in Nepal

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Berg, Torsten Rødel
Conference: Survival of the Commons: Mounting Challenges and New Realities, the Eleventh Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bali, Indonesia
Conf. Date: June 19-23, 2006
Date: 2006
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/991
Sector: Agriculture
Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
institutional change
hill farming
Abstract: "This paper examines the meanings of privatisation and political decentralisation as complementary approaches to the transfer of power, on irrigated communities in Nepal. The introduction of democracy in Nepal in 1990 coincided with a shared donor agenda emphasising private sector participation in the management of natural resources. The notion of the 'local resource management institution' as an alternative to government bureaucracy was pervasive; this led to its resurrection in rural development policy and to a central role for community based-management in Nepal's rural development strategy. Parallel to this, democratic Nepal had embarked upon a process of political decentralisation involving the setting up of democratically elected local government bodies. The combined process resulted in diverse rural institutional landscapes, connected formally through legal recognition of user's groups and NGOs, and informally through the dynamics of political economy, with districts as local political arenas. As an outcome of an ongoing political crisis in Nepal the political decentralisation process came to a halt when local bodies were abolished by the central government in 2002; likewise, restrictions on civil liberties and Maoist attempts at controlling civil society continue to reduce the room for manoeuvre for community-based institutions. "This trajectory offers an opportunity for exploring the experience of deconcentration in a 'with' and 'without' perspective. This is done through narrative analysis of the institutional context of the democratic era, and its meanings in terms of livelihoods among irrigated farmers in the hills of West-central Nepal. With irrigation institutions as central elements in the agricultural development policies of the 1990s, and as a relatively better-off segment of rural society in a relatively well- endowed area of Nepal, these farmers were in a good position to reap benefits associated with the institutional plurality of the democratic era. Hence their plight during the present process of 'recentralisation' is particularly relevant to evaluations of the overall decentralization approach in a with and without perspective. "The paper finds that the institutional plurality of the democratic era was important to many farmers and communities. Livelihoods were played out in the context of both community based (including common property institutions) and government institutions, connected through a combination of legal structures and 'power' in socio-economic relations. Cooperatives, irrigation and forestry user groups brought economic benefits and provided community leverage vis-à-vis government bodies. In many cases Village Development Committees were instrumental in connecting these community institutions - which were often used as platforms for local elites to gain political power - with the surrounding political landscape. The paper concludes by suggesting that analysis of the decentralization experience in terms of its livelihood meanings should go beyond notions of ' private' and 'political' spheres to include analysis of 'political space'. This involves looking at how farmers navigate within the institutional landscape, their organizing practices, resultant service delivery and resource allocation in specific socio-economic and cultural contexts. The paper is based on a research project, which investigates socio-institutional change in irrigated communities in mountain and hill districts in Nepal."

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