Do Participatory Watershed Management Projects Guarantee Sufficient Attention to Pro-Poor Concerns? An Indian Case Study

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
"In recent years decentralized development approaches have been encouraged to realize the goal of poverty reduction. In the agricultural sector Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) and Joint Forest Management (JFM) projects have been promoted with a view to improve service provision in a watershed context. Improved service provision it is presumed would improve access of resource poor households to watershed services such as irrigation and Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP’s). Improved access to watershed services it is argued would reduce poverty through increases in agricultural productivity and farm incomes. This paper draws on evidence from a post-project evaluation of a Ford Foundation supported watershed management project in northern India to argue that participatory watershed management projects need not necessarily safeguard the interests of poorer rural households. We demonstrate that given a particular institutional contract as in Haryana, irrigation service provision by contractors proved to be more effective than provision by a community organization in ensuring that water allocation, collection of Irrigation Service Fees (ISF) and routine maintenance of irrigation infrastructure was undertaken. Our analysis of benefit distribution from successful irrigation service provision, however, shows that wealthier land holding households benefited more than poorer households. Cropping intensity rates, farm productivity, acreage under dam assisted irrigation and farm incomes tended to favour wealthier households. Interestingly, although non-farm incomes reduced levels of income inequality they did not alter distribution of total incomes which continued to favour wealthier households. Further, landless households were facing increasing competition for non-farm jobs from marginal land owning households. Women, another traditionally marginalized group in the region were suffering from an increased workload since improved access to irrigation led to doubling of agricultural yields. We also noted that when it came to collecting fuelwood from catchment areas women from resource poor households bore greater drudgery when compared to their counterparts from wealthier households. In conclusion this paper highlights three issues that merit attention from policy makers: choice between policy support for public irrigation systems or private tubewell expansion and its implications for farmer participation in watershed management, expansion of non-farm employment as a way towards reducing inequality in income distribution and removal of institutional biases so that women may benefit from a process of agricultural development."
watersheds, participatory management, public choice, poverty, women