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Participatory Irrigation Management in Thailand

As outlined in its report, the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) of Thailand has led an initiative to reorganize irrigation management in the central Suphan Buri Province. The Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) program, named a second-place winner at the 2011 UN Public Service Awards, has allowed local farmers to exert primary control over the canals and ditches that provide water to their fields.

The Kra Seaw Reservoir in Dan Chang District supplies water to a land area of 177 km2 through a network of irrigation canals and ditches. The production of rice and sugar cane, the area’s dominant crops, accounts for the greatest source of water demand.
Prior to the implementation of PIM, the government managed the irrigation system in a top-down manner that often failed to meet farmers’ needs. Water supply issues, as well as disputes among farmers, and between farmers and public irrigation staff, were common. In order to find a sustainable solution, the government implemented PIM, beginning in 2006.

The PIM approach identifies three new levels of irrigation management: a Joint Management Committee (JMC) that manages the reservoir and primary canal; Integrated Water User Groups (IWUGs) that manage and maintain the secondary canals; and Water User Groups (WUGs) that manage and maintain the irrigation ditches (see image above). The JMC, consisting of representatives of the IWUGs and of relevant public and private agencies, meets twice per year to reach mutual agreement on water allocation, delivery, and maintenance plans. Each of the 9 IWUGs then develops its own corresponding water usage plan, while the 278 WUGs maintain the respective ditches and irrigation infrastructures for which each is responsible. The results of these meetings are then disseminated through postings on community boards, announcements over village loudspeakers, and by local volunteers.

The inclusion of local farmers as members of the WUGs, IWUGs, and the JMC has ensured that their needs and concerns are integrated into the decision-making process. This has had a number of positive community level outcomes. First, more effective management has meant that water is supplied quickly and on-time. Improved water delivery and an increased level of community cooperation have significantly reduced the number of water-related disputes.

Crop yields have also increased, as farmers have been able to intensify their agricultural practices and expand their cropland. Average sugar cane yields increased by 46 percent following implementation, while average wet-season and dry-season rice yields also saw increases of 20% and 12%, respectively. Importantly, these increased yields have translated into a rise in local farmers’ incomes. By incorporating users into the provision of their own services, the RID’s Participatory Irrigation Management initiative has succeeded in better meeting users’ needs and ensuring more positive public outcomes.

Royal Irrigation Department. “Participatory Irrigation Management by Civil Society Committee and Water User Organizations.” Accessed at:
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “Good Practices and Innovations in Public Governance: United Nations Public Service Awards Winners, 2003-2011.” Accessed at:
United Nations Public Administration Network. “2011 UNPSA Winners by Category.” Accessed at:
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