'I am just borrowing water, but I will return it in an hour': The Interdependence of Informal and Formal Institutions in Balinese Irrigation Management

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"Rice cultivation in Bali cannot be separated from the irrigation societies called subak. Subak are socio-religious organisations responsible for irrigation management and religious activities within a defined geographical area. Every subak has rules that have developed over a long time. They have been codified in a set of laws called 'awig-awig'. These laws regulate rights and duties among the members of the subak. Such rights and duties include public obligations, regulations concerning land and water use, legal transactions of land transfer, and collective religious ceremonies. "However, the farmers' every day decisions rely strongly on informal regulations and unwritten rules. The author explores how irrigation water is negotiated by the heads of the subak who themselves are farmers. It is argued that the formal arrangements are reluctantly implemented by subak heads. It is the strength of the "informal" which gives them the freedom to adjust to constantly changing situations. "This paper uses a case study to show the complexity of local irrigation management. The first section discusses the common view of the subak as being a thoroughly structured, well organised irrigation society. The second section highlights recent changes to the subak system due to government intervention. The author analyses the impact of a recently established government-assisted federation (subak-gede) of five subak which share a common weir. The introduction of the new management level has brought changes to the way water is distributed amongst the subak which ignites unexpected resistance within the farming community. The third section questions the common view that a shift from 'weak' informal institutions to 'strong' formal institutions really improves irrigation management."
IASC, irrigation--case studies, indigenous institutions--case studies, rules--case studies