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Cooperation among Irrigation Institutions
Continued development of the irrigation sector in Vietnam requires Government to establish an enabling framework of policies, legislation and financing mechanisms that is sufficiently attractive to release the inherent potential and resources of the private sector and the rural population to participate in irrigation development

Cooperation among Irrigation Institutions

Lars Skov Andersen - WBI / COWI

Rural paysage in Vietnam


Continued development of the irrigation sector in Vietnam requires Government to establish an enabling framework of policies, legislation and financing mechanisms that is sufficiently attractive to release the inherent potential and resources of the private sector and the rural population to participate in irrigation development.

Government must set up institutions to manage water resources in the context of river basins and catchments and to manage irrigation systems in accordance with the hydraulic boundaries of these systems and abandon the present system of managing water resources and irrigation according to administrative boundaries.

In Vietnam, Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) is relevant mainly for irrigation systems and schemes that have been built with government funds and now are managed by Irrigation Management Companies (IMC) on behalf of government.

 For large irrigation systems these IMCs may need to be reformed and possibly split up or merged in order to be aligned with the hydraulic boundaries of irrigation systems, while for small systems and individual schemes the management should be transferred to Water User Associations (WUAs) established in accordance with the 2004 PIM Strategy.

Implementation of PIM and reorientation of the irrigation sector in accordance with the 2004 Strategy and the above principles carries the potential for the second major leap forward in agricultural productivity that would go a long way towards eliminating poverty and hunger among the rural population in Vietnam. 



Future irrigation management in Vietnam should be aligned with modern principles for water resources management by river basins and delivery of irrigation services on market economic principles.

In this context the role of government will be to provide an enabling environment of policies, legislation and institutions that are sufficiently attractive to attract private sector investments to the irrigation sector and mobilise the rural population to participate in irrigation management.

If Vietnam succeeds, evidence from the earliest PIM experiments in Tuyen Quang province shows that the irrigation sector has the potential for a new leap forward in productivity, that will go a long way towards eliminating poverty and hunger among the rural population.


Management by Hydraulic Boundaries


Modern water resources management is carried out on the basis of hydrological units, which may be a river basin or a smaller catchment within a river basin. In order to be efficient irrigation systems shall also be managed as hydraulic systems stretching from headworks to the tail end sluice or drainage canal, and NOT BE FRAGMENTED across administrative boundaries of provinces, districts and communes. One small but obvious reason is that hydraulic boundaries are constant, while administrative boundaries may change as new provinces are created and districts or communes merged.

Government therefore shall delegate water resources management to river basin or catchment councils, while irrigation management shall be delegated either to Water Service Organisations or to Water User Associations.

In large complex irrigation systems the Irrigation Management Companies (IMC) may be reformed to take the role of the WSO, with one WSO to manage the headworks of each major irrigation system.

In small simple systems consisting of 1-5 individual irrigation schemes, farmers should be assisted to form WUAs. Initially the WUA shall manage only the irrigation infrastructure and the distribution and use of water within the scheme, but in step with increasing management capacity, the WUAs may associate to form agricultural co-operatives providing a wider range of rural services – BUT NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND AS PRACTISED IN MANY PROVINCES IN VIETNAM.


River Basin Organisations

When government decentralises water resources management to RBOs and irrigation management to WSOs and WUAs, the role of government obviously must change to reflect the new situation.

It remains the responsibility of government to ensure that the new system works. Government shall do so through policies and legislation, that enable the new institutions to be formed, function and operation in a market economy without direct government intervention.

Government therefore shall establish RBOs and through legislation EMPOWER these to manage the water resources within different river basins and catchments.

Managing water resources means:

            to  assess how much water is available for beneficial use;

            to prepare a catchment management plan, including drought and flood management plans, where these are relevant;

            to allocate water to different areas within the river basin and to different sectors;

            to administer these allocations through issuance of water rights;

            to control that water rights are complied with by permit holders;

            to resolve conflicts that may emerge between different permit holders;

            to ensure that each sector prepares a development plan, which complies with the catchment management plan, e.g. urban water supply plan, irrigation development plan, flood protection plan, wastewater disposal plan, etc.

Membership of the RBO must be open to all key stakeholders within the river basin:

            provincial government, who will be core members;

            major water users, such as hydropower companies, irrigation and drainage companies, urban water companies, etc.;

            major water users, such as industrial enterprises;

            minor water users, for instance farmers, who would be represented by their professional associations, such as Farmers’ Union and Women’s Union; and

            NGOs, research, educational and training institutions.


Irrigation Management Companies

Government shall also take the initiative to reform existing IMCs to operate as commercial companies in the same way as urban water supply companies, urban wastewater companies and urban environment companies.

The target for this reform is one IMC for each irrigation system and not one IMC for each province, with the entire operation financed by water charges paid by water users and no government subsidies.

There needs to be a clear timetable for this reform, including a gradual reduction of government subsidies, that will require IMCs to become more efficient and to deliver services that farmers are willing to pay for.

The principal roles of the IMC will be:

            to OWN, operate and maintain the headworks of major irrigation systems:

-             Reservoirs,

-             Dams and weirs,

-             Pumping stations, and

-             Primary canals;

            to deliver water to irrigation schemes in consultation with users;

            to collect a water service charge that is sufficient to meet the full costs of providing irrigation water;

            to pay a water resources fee to government; and

            to support WUAs.

The most controversial issue is probably the transfer of ownership of irrigation infrastructure from government to the IMC (See Chapter 5). 

The role of government in the reform of IMCs is:

            to assist IMCs to restructure and split up to match the hydraulic boundaries of irrigation systems;

            to prepare the necessary legislation that enables IMCs to register as independent commercial companies, probably following the joint-stock model, with provincial governments as the main shareholders;

            in the transition period to allow IMCs to receive government subsidies for restructuring;

            in the transition period to set-up institutional capacity building programmes for the IMC and in-service training programmes for their staff; and

            to  regulate IMCs through a management board and through technical and financial audits.

The new IMCs shall have a management board with representation of key stakeholders:

            Provincial or district government depending on size; and

            Water users, who again depending on the size of the system, may be represented by:

-             Farmers’ Union

-             Women’s Union

-             Chairmen of Water User Associations.


Water User Associations

has experimented with different models for farmer participation in irrigation management for more than 10 years.

Considering the impressive results of the early experiments in Tuyen Quang, it is difficult to understand why it should take MARD eight years to prepare and issue a clear strategy for implementation of PIM in Vietnam.

The PIM Strategy (Government Decision 43 of 31/2/2004) is an excellent example of government creating the enabling environment for PIM. The Strategy now needs to be followed up by concrete legislation enabling farmers to establish WUAs that focus on water management and by programs to build the capacity of these new WUAs. The Vietnam Water Resources Assistance Program (VWRAP) is an example of a programme that provides all stakeholders with opportunities to implement the PIM Strategy.

The role of government in this process, and now it is mainly the provincial government that we are talking about, will be, through DARD to support the farmers to establish WUA, to build the management capacity of the new WUAs, and to assist farmers with technical advice on rehabilitation and operation of the irrigation infrastructure.

In order to do so DARD needs to build new competencies in institutional development and financial management, in short, DARD needs either to set up a PIM unit with these competencies or to contract these from national and regional research and training institutions. Evidence from PIM experiments across Vietnam shows that this process requires a multi-disciplinary team and cannot be driven by irrigation engineers alone.

The role and functions of the WUA Depends on the size of the irrigation system or scheme.

International experience is that WUAs are most stable if they are formed from the bottom u and initially focus solely on water management. This means that farmers should be assisted to form a WUA for their own irrigation scheme, typically at village level, but in some cases at commune level.

This type of WA may deal with:

            Coordination of cropping calendars and resulting irrigation schedules;

            Negotiation with the IMB on the delivery of irrigation water in accordance with the cropping calendar;

            Signing a contract on water delivery with the IMC;

            Operating the irrigation infrastructure from gate to drainage canal or the irrigation shceme;

            Distributing water to members;

            Rehabilitating the irrigation infrastructure, if necessary;

            Maintaining the irrigation infrastructure;

            Collecting the irrigation fee from members in order to pay the IMC for the delivery of water and to finance the costs of:

-             scheme management

-             scheme operation,

-             maintenance of infrastructure, and

-             repayment of loans to rehabilitate the infrastructure, where relevant.

The relationship with the IMC is solely a business relationship, with the WUA buying the necessary volume of irrigation water and paying for its delivery to the gate of the irrigation scheme.


Ownership of Irrigation Infrastructure

The ownership of irrigation infrastructure has proven to be one of the main barriers to irrigation reform. More specifically, it is the conditions for transfer of ownership from the state to IMCs and WUAs that has generated controversy.

In Vietnam, PIM is relevant mainly/only to irrigation systems and schemes that have been built with government funds and now are managed by IMCs on behalf of government. In order for IMCs to operate on commercial conditions the simplest model is to transfer ownership of the irrigation infrastructure to the IMC. The infrastructure will become a fixed asset of the IMC, but the question is whether the IMCs shall pay government for this asset or not. The same applies to the transfer of ownership of irrigation infrastructure to WUAs although on a smaller scale.

The position of government is that IMCs and WUAs should pay for the infrastructure they receive, while the position of farmers is that they already have paid for the infrastructure through the payment of irrigation fees. In some cases the infrastructure may have deteriorated so much that the costs of rehabilitation makes it a major liability rather than an asset.

An economic analysis will undoubtedly show that in 9 of 10 cases, the current government subsidies to irrigation management exceed the potential interest that could be achieved from sale of irrigation infrastructure. Government therefore would be better off, if it transferred ownership of irrigation infrastructure free of charge.

In order to encourage IMCs and WUAs to take ownership of dilapidated infrastructure it may even be necessary for government to introduce incentives in the form of subsidies or concessional interest free loans for the IMCs or WUAs to carry out the rehabilitation.

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