What Others Say

Doug Vermillion

1986 – 1998 and 2002 – 2003, Currently Principal Advisor, Land and Water, Euroconsult Mott MacDonald, Arnhem, The Netherlands


IWMI should focus on innovation, not just research findings, new ideas and recommendations. Focus on actual sustainable adoption of new practices that meet the needs of people and the environment in the future. Innovation includes incentives and accountability mechanisms that guide people in the direction promoted by policy. IWMI should focus on only a few priority topics for a medium to long-term period of time. I recommend water sector adaptation to climate change, irrigation system management with appropriate sector support and water-saving on-farm water management. In all its work IWMI should use multi-disciplinary teams. For some strategic and sensitive issues, IWMI might consider acting as a mediator in alternative dispute resolution forums in strategic river basins.

IWMI has become a much more mature organization. It has developed institutional mechanisms and has a very strong repository of experience and capabilities. It is also clear about its direction. In the early years we were learning, so the operation was more flexible. It is also good that IWMI is now focusing again on irrigation management. The Indus Basin even today, continues to be a ‘laboratory’ presenting many opportunities.

Sarah Carriger

Former Head Writer and Head of Communications at IWMI (1999 to 2004), Currently Science Writer and Communications Consultant, Netherlands


IWMI has come a long way in the past ten years. Communication is now seen as a crucial part of every project, not merely an adjunct. IWMI transfers knowledge through a wide variety of communications products and through a range of partnerships. The challenge is to continue to develop and strengthen those partnerships, especially outside the water sector, and to foster more two-way communication, so that end users are able to feed back into the research process.

Senen M. Miranda

Senior Irrigation Specialist, IIMI (1984-1993), retired as Professor and Department Chair at University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) in 2002, currently a consultant to the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) on the physical planning and development of its campus.


My simple advice to IWMI, with its broader mandate, is for the Institute to first field or pilot test operational research-derived findings before making recommendations to improve management of water resources.

Gil Levine

Research Fellow and Consultant, IIMI/IWMI (1989-2007). Currently Professor Emeritus, and Fulbright Advisor, Cornell University, USA.


Over the years, I have seen the research focus shift from increasing understanding of system management issues to options for addressing those issues, to broader implications of system control and access (including gender implications), and then to irrigation sector issues. Recognition of the increasing competition for water has brought the shift from irrigation management to water management issues, ultimately resulting in the name change.

When IRRI and CIMMYT were first developed, with very limited and specific goals (to increase food production and to develop the scientists and supporting staff necessary to carry the work on in many countries), the anticipation was that the centers would exist for 25 years and the facilities would be turned over to the host countries. Obviously, this has not happened, but it would be instructive to determine why not. While IIMI/IWMI is a late comer to the CGIAR system, on the occasion of its 25th Anniversary it has the opportunity to look ahead, and to chart a course that will contribute importantly to the solution of not only the problems at hand, but those likely to arise. I wish it success.

Charles Abernethy

Charles held a number of positions between 1987 and 1984. IIMI/IWMI Special Advisor to Director General Roberto Lenton (1991-1994). Wrote the Institute’s first Strategy and (when the position was created) became IWMI’s first Director of Research for two years and later a Senior Technical Advisor. Prior to joining IIMI full-time, he worked as a Senior Associate in 1986 and led a team to Africa. He drafted the first Africa Strategy.


Currently an Independent Consultant in the UK

I wish that IWMI would study the financial side of irrigation more, because most Asian irrigators are rather poor, and money, prices, etc., determine their motivation. This was the weakest point of the Comprehensive Assessment — no attention to finance.

Doug Merrey

Formerly a Principal Scientist and Head of IWMI’s office in Africa. Before that, Doug was Deputy Director General for Programs, and held various other leadership positions. He helped draft a participatory irrigation management policy with Nanda Abeywickrema that was adopted by Sri Lanka’s Cabinet.


Currently, he is a Natural Resources Policy and Institutions Specialist and Independent Consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa.

While I am very pleased with IWMI’s current overall program and all its strengths, I do feel IWMI needs more social scientists. In the early years we constituted around 40% of the senior staff, and I think we made a lot of useful contributions though the lack of incentives to publish may have reduced our impacts. With more social scientists, IWMIÂ would be able to contribute to the social-policy-institutional issues facing water management at all levels which was the case in its first decade.

David Groenfeldt

(1984-1989), Economic Anthropologist at IIMI. Currently Director, Water and Culture Institute, USA.


Though I have not followed IWMI closely in recent years, I have followed the water world in general, and it has become a far more complicated and sophisticated world than what existed when both IWMI and I were young. There seem to be exhaustive research programs on just about every conceivable topic, sponsored by aid agencies, mega-research universities, specialty institutes, government and private think tanks, and private corporations. Where IWMI has a comparative advantage, it seems to me, is through (1) networking among these many initiatives to facilitate knowledge sharing and cross-fertilization, (2) identifying and addressing knowledge gaps, and most importantly (3) capitalizing on existing knowledge to set new policy standards on critically urgent and opportunistic issues related to climate change.

Let me explain a bit more on this third point. There is no question that climate change is the dominant challenge for water management in the coming decades. Huge investments are already starting to be made in response to anticipated climatic shifts, with the result that water ecosystems (lakes, rivers, aquifers, wetlands) will be reengineered, and very often on the basis of fears and risk aversion rather than on the basis of best management practices. An example from my own region is the planned “modernization” of levees along the Rio Grande as it runs through the major city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The new levees will further channelize the river and remove any hope of rehabilitating natural floodplains. Instead of working with natural forces and seeking to restore an ecologically sustainable connection between the river channel and its floodplain (and the many ecosystem services that could ensue), the planned project will pursue the 19th century paradigm of command-and-control river management, taking the region even further away from the goal of sustainable river management.

As the premier international water management center of excellence, IWMI has what Robert Chambers used to call a “comparative responsibility” to serve as a voice of ecologically enlightened reason in setting and promoting standards for water management that strengthens ecological resilience, and promoting (through research but also through the soft-advocacy of policy briefs and white papers) the management tools that can support and operationalize ecologically sound water management.

Specifically, IWMI should launch a program to pursue what Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize for: matching governance systems with ecological and natural resource production systems (e.g., watersheds, river basins, irrigation systems). IWMI can, and should, go further than Ostrom has gone by exploring and reporting how cultural values and environmental ethics support (actually or potentially) ecologically-sound governance of water systems. IWMI would not be alone in such studies, but it would have the highest profile and the best chance of making a difference in how water systems actually get managed, and how those billions of dollars for new water infrastructure get spent.

Professor M. S. Swaminathan

Board Member – January 1990 to December 1992, Board Chair – January 1992 – December 1994, Currently a Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and Chairman of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation


Building a sustainable water security system for a human population of nearly 1.2 billion and a farm animal population of over a billion is the priority task of the government and people of India. On the suggestion of the Supreme Court of India, the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India has launched a Technology Mission titled, “Winning, Augmentation and Renovation (WAR) for Water.” The aim of this Mission is the development of research-based technologies for addressing the serious water challenges facing the country. The approach will include measures for augmentation of supply, management of demand and harnessing new technologies. The new technologies, in particular, relate to drinking water as well as recycling of wastewater.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recently started a Global Soil Partnership, to create awareness of the need to conserve prime farmland for agriculture and to promote a land care movement at the country level, which has already been adopted in Australia. Land use decisions are also water use decisions. Hence, the Global Soil Partnership and the Global Water Partnership should work together with the help of IWMI to foster integrated attention towards food and water security. This will help to launch an evergreen revolution movement leading to enhancement in crop productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm.

Sam H. Johnson III

(1986-1997), Sam worked for IIMI (IWMI) in three different roles: 1986-1987 IIMI Resident Scientist in Indonesia, stationed in Jakarta1993-1994 IIMI Program Leader for Local Management Program, stationed at IIMI HQ in Colombo 1994-1997 IIMI Program Leader for Mexico and Latin America, stationed at CIMMYT, El Batan, Mexico


Currently a Water Resource Consultant based in the USA

The challenge with IWMI’s present and future program is to carry out research that countries and donors recognize as so critical that they are willing to fund over a long time frame. This requires research that clearly has a direct application that can be sold to both donors and clients. The other challenge is to obtain enough core funding to support research programs over an extended time frame rather than being forced to shift from research program to research program based on available donor funding.

Marian Fuchs-Carsch

1989 – 1996, Project Development Officer and Head, Donor Relations and Project Development


We had some pretty spectacular board members during my time at IIMI, and none more spectacular than Robert McNamara. What an incredible man he was! Looking and acting like a man half his age, he would show up at board meetings in slacks and a polo shirt, with a small piece of hand luggage, straight from the airport, ready for the meeting. He wasn’t interested in formalities or small talk. He would always have read and remembered the relevant materials. He threw away all pages that weren’t useful or of interest to him. Despite his illustrious past and forceful personality, he never tried to dominate the meetings. But on the topics he cared about, he was passionate, and insistent. “Performance!” “Performance!” he would urge. Measurement of results was what he wanted. This was great advice, still highly relevant today – results-oriented R&D is the watchword of almost every research or development organization I visit these days. He was also one of the few board members to take time to check in with those who did not attend the Board Meetings but whose work interested him.

Chris Scott

Regional Director, Asia. Currently – Professor, University of Arizona, and IWMI wastewater irrigation collaborator, cascott@email.arizona.edu


Currently a Water Resource Consultant based in the USA

IWMI’s greatest challenge is to be a catalyst in innovating with national and local partners while responding to rapidly evolving framing conditions. How do we ensure continuity with change? Agriculture and the water needed to support it, with all the tradeoffs we know so well, will increasingly be buffeted by global economic forces, climate change, other environmental processes, urban growth the list goes on. And for IWMI’s enterprise, a crucial element of change is donor commitment, which can be fickle.

To make progress towards our mission, we must remain focused on harnessing the talents of the NARS, universities, and NGOs in the many locations where we work. For this, the regional offices and country programs are central to IWMI’s effectiveness; headquarters must play a support role while sparking innovation. I say this based on the nearly a decade I spent working in regional offices (hence, I’m still using the first-person, “we at IWMI”).

The institute has no miracle crop variety or global systems model to distinguish us, which is fortunate, because we’re able to respond to rapidly evolving needs. It’s crucial that we work not just on our partners’ current priorities, but help to shape their future objectives and capabilities to respond to rapid global changes. In the process, we’ll undoubtedly find that our objectives change too in unexpected way.

IWMI’s research hallmarks are interdisciplinarity and stakeholder outreach. The process of assembling integrated teams is increasingly sought after in the research I’m presently involved in. And to make science relevant to policy-making, indeed to frame science questions based on stakeholder engagement, is the next wave. My time at IWMI prepared me well, though it was difficult finding a ‘disciplinary’ home in U.S. academia. But I’m pleased to say I continue to work today on many of the questions I unexpectedly came upon at IWMI. And I’m keenly aware of how changing conditions drive us to innovate, seek new partners, and remain focused on the broader relevance of our work.

Dr. Walter Huppert

Former Member of IWMI ‘ s Board of Governors, currently Consultant, Water Management and Institutions


Making the “water issue” a top priority in the international debate on global development. In my opinion, IWMI’s biggest achievement is its contribution to ‘agenda setting’ in the international debate on water issues in general and on the topic of ‘water scarcity’ in particular. Linking sound scientific evidence with awareness raising efforts and joining forces with other prominent actors has generated a previously unknown international attention to global water issues. The latest evidence of IMWI’s leading role in this respect is its scientific guidance and coordination of a landmark interdisciplinary work, the “Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture” in 2007.

Emphasizing the importance of ‘water productivity’ and making the slogan ‘more crop per drop’ becoming an internationally accepted guiding principle for water management in agriculture. IWMI’s longstanding efforts and exceptional achievements with respect to issues of efficiency in agricultural water use are legend. They culminated in the propagation of water productivity in agriculture in water scarce environments and in delivering the scientific knowledge base for such directions. Coining the slogan ‘more crop per drop’ helped greatly in disseminating the message of water productivity in agriculture. Re-defining ‘efficiency’ in ‘closed’ river basins added another important new perspective to the efficiency debate in the water sector.

Creating a sound scientific knowledge base on “Agricultural Water Management” in general and “Irrigation Management” in particular. It is hard to imagine today that ‘irrigation management’ was a kind of non-topic in irrigation in the 1960’s and 1970’s and even in the early 1980’s when irrigation attracted the bulk of international investments in agricultural development. It is due to IWMI – the former Irrigation Management Institute – that the issue of “management” and related topics gained access into the international debate on agricultural water development and have been given ever increasing importance and a sound interdisciplinary scientific foundation since then.

Roberto Lenton

Director General, IIMI (1987-1994)


Largely as a result of high quality publications and effective outreach, IWMI has now become the most authoritative source of research-based information on the management of water for agriculture, and increasingly, on the management of water more generally. IWMI’s work is quoted regularly, not only in scientific circles but also in broader publications with significant influence.

IWMI’s research over the last two decades has played a major role in making the case, especially to the traditional water engineering community, that the management of water, especially for agriculture, is as important as its development. While few people would dispute this today, in the 1980s this was not at all the conventional wisdom.

IWMI’s admission to the CGIAR system and its increasing prominence and respectability within the group and beyond (including through the Challenge Programs) has helped make the case to the agricultural research community that research on the management of water for agriculture is not only a vital part of agricultural research, but it also provides new methodological approaches and insights that have helped advance agricultural research more generally.

David Seckler

Director General, IWMI (1995-2000), currently Director, Winrock Water


Extension, refinement, elaboration and promotion of the basin perspective in water resources. Of course IWMI did not discover basins or the limitations of classical irrigation efficiency concepts, but it did do a lot in the way of the above four words.

World Water Supply and Demand Projections. That study was a first and has been followed by many others, including the later IWMI work. It has had a large effect on getting the world to recognize the ongoing and worsening water crisis.

Promoting the use of remote sensing in analyzing irrigation systems. IWMI provided Wim Bastiansen with his first substantial opportunity to apply his theories and sponsored several large-scale tests for a technique that is now being used all over the world.

The work on the health effects of irrigation in terms of malaria control and use of wastewater in irrigation. I believe that this work started a very important movement of research and action around the world.