Most families in Myanmar rely on agriculture to make a living. Water is literally life for tens of millions of its people, enabling them to grow crops and put food on the table. It is vital that water is distributed equitably within and between villages, enabling each family to get their fair share and irrigate their fields, especially in times of drought. However, this resource is often poorly and opaquely managed.
The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and International Water Management Institute (IWMI) tackled the challenge by assisting farmers in setting up a water users' association during the rehabilitation of Pyawt Ywar, one of Myanmar's 300+ pump irrigation schemes. At community meetings, farmers elected the association's leaders and drew up rules for distributing water. Once the association was up and running, it used billboards, loudspeakers, text messages and Facebook to communicate water delivery and maintenance schedules and organize meetings, enabling villagers to stay up to date with its work.
In parallel, WLE/IWMI and partner organization Welthungerhilfe introduced high-quality seeds of pulses and rice, as well as new crops such as chili, long bean and papaya which require less water than rice. This has economic as well as ecological benefits, reducing the amount of energy and therefore money required to pump water from the river.
A survey of 140 farmers in 2020, during the COVID-19 crisis, showed unanimous agreement that the quantity and timing of water delivery had improved with the new association. Dry-season energy costs were halved. More than a year after the project ended, farmers reported that the association had enabled them to almost double the area of land under irrigation and increase their crop production, even under the combined pressures of COVID-19 and below-average monsoon rains. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed were cultivating an additional crop beyond rice, and some were growing as many as four different crops.Throughout the project, WLE/IWMI worked with national institutions to enable them to later scale up the approach across the region, providing training on the new crops and seed varieties to extension agents from the Department of Agriculture. Noting the success of the project, Myanmar's Irrigation and Water Utilization Department has already started setting up similar associations in other villages. WLE/IWMI is supporting these efforts by translating the water user association handbook into Burmese.