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Smallholder Irrigation Impacts on Wetlands Livelihoods and Aquatic Resources Use

Author(s): a community level study in Laos, Mekong River Basin.
IWRA World Water Congress 2008 Montpellier France
4. Development of Water Resources and Infrastructure
Author(s): Dr. Madhusudan Bhattarai
Dr. Phouphet Kyophilavong
Mr. Phonsvisay Aloun
Corresponding Address of the author: Madhusudan Bhattarai, Ph.D. Agricultural Economist AVRDC -The World Vegetable Center P. O. Box 42, Shanhua, Tainan, Taiwan 74199, ROC Phone (+ 886-6) 583-7801 Ext 460 (O), 808 (H) Fax: (+886-6) 583- 0009 E-mai

Keyword(s): smallholder irrigation, irrigation impacts on wetland livelihoods, fish and aquatic resources, food security, joint management of irrigation and wetlands, Laos, Mekong river basin

AbstractBackground and objectives: Given the magnitude of investments and thrust in irrigation in Asia, there are very few detailed case studies on environmental ramifications of smallholder irrigation on wetlands that analyzes the complex interlinkages among the factors. The irrigaton impacts on wetlands and rural livelihoods (economic and resources substitution effects) channel through income and employment effects in a rural economy. In contradictory to the case of large irrigation schemes, very little is known on smallholder irrigation implications on sustainability of aquatic resources uses and wetand livelihoods. This study picks up this point, analyzes how smallholder irrigation has affected wetland ecosystems and rural livelihoods in one village in Laos. This study is an output of a reginal collaborative project between IUCN (through MWBP) and IWMI. . Scheme Description: Pump irrigation with 100 ha of potential irrigated area, two lift pump are mounted on a floating boat on Xe Kamarn river (a tributaory of Mekong River). Now 50 households are using pump irrigation for cultivation of dry season paddy (30 ha). Methods Based on a participatory assessment (PRA) at the irrigation scheme in a village in Southern Laos, it summarizes the wetland community members’ perceptions towards irrigation-induced affects on farm income and several other facets of the rural livelihoods. This includes assessment on irrigation brought changes (both positive and negative) on wetland resources use and local environment, availability and use of fish and aquatic resources, etc. The field assessment was done in September 2006. Results, conclusions, and key message: • Within 5-6 years time, the smallholder irrigation has resulted substantial benefits to rural livelihoods and helped transferming the village to a rice surplus, out of acute rice deficit (food insecured) village. • The irrigation scheme also led to the increased community well-being, as the irrigation has allowed them to substantialy increase dry season paddy production areas, employment creation, and significantly enhanced food security in the village. In a region with a very high unemployment level (over 50%), the irrigation scheme has helped creating substantial employment oppotunities, and helped benefiting also to the landless communities and improving community livelihoods, imprioving health and nutrition of all the community members. • Contrary to the exiting literature, the community members, including fishers, do not consider any adverse impact of the irrigation on aquatic resources use in the river. • Joint management of irrigation and aquatic resources use is feasible by prudent planning, and incentived based water withdrawal (timing and level of water). • In the studied scheme, the farmers’ are paying almost full operation cost of running the pumps. The farmers are paying over US$50/ha for irrigating (5-6 times) in the dry season of 2005/06. The high irrigation charge has created a strong incentive to the farmers not to overuse the water, rather run the pumps only when it is absulutly needed. Each irrigating farmer has to share the electricity costs of the scheme at the end of cropseason (per unit basis of the electricity consumed), thus the incentive to use pump is inbuilt here. • The field channel (concrete) of the irrigtation scheme is of oversized. With a prudent irrigation planning and consultation with the community, the scale, size, and nature of the scheme could have been better adjusted which could have saved nearly half of the irrigation cosntruction cost than what was spent then.
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