IWMI in Southeast Asia

 

 

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  • Use of groundwater for irrigation in Kandal Province, Cambodia.
    Use of groundwater for irrigation in Kandal Province, Cambodia.
  • NP Cambodia3
    NP Cambodia3
  • Maize farming in Cambodia
    Maize farming in Cambodia
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    NP cambodia53
  • Fish catch
    Fish catch
  • NP Laos33
    NP Laos33
  • NP Cambodia9
    NP Cambodia9
  • Villager tending her vegetable garden close to Nam Hai river, Lao PDR
    Villager tending her vegetable garden close to Nam Hai river, Lao PDR
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    NP cambodia51
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    NP cambodia57_2
BackgroundWater, Food and EcosystemsWater, Climate Change and ResilienceWater, Growth and Inclusion
Countries in Southeast Asia have abundant water resources. However, due to the uneven distribution of these resources, much of the region is water insecure. Geographic location and seasonal variations, as well as varying degrees of economic development and different political systems, greatly affect people’s access to water and land resources. The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) comprises Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China (specifically Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region). Countries in the GMS are changing as a result of increasing economic growth, population and urbanization as well as rapid rural transformations. The GMS has a combined population of around 345,185. By 2050, it is expected that the subregion will be at least 50% urbanized. Although countries are developing at different speeds, the modernization of agriculture is taking place everywhere, with a general shift from traditional subsistence systems to a path of intensification, specialization, increased agrochemical use and mechanization. Governments in the region recognize the critical role that water and land resources management can play in future development.
Southeast Asian governments have invested heavily in irrigation development, and this has contributed immensely to agricultural production and economic development in the region. However, the inability of most governments to bear the cost of maintaining large irrigation systems, weak institutional arrangements and poor management have resulted in degraded infrastructure and a high level of underperformance. Also, many irrigation technologies remain out of reach for smallholder farmers due to the lack of access to credit, markets and information, or shortage of labor. The resilience of agricultural systems can be improved through the revitalization of irrigation schemes and supporting decentralized irrigation.

IWMI has significant experience in promoting better irrigation management in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on institutional capacity building and community-based schemes. In Myanmar’s Central Dry Zone (CDZ), an IWMI-led initiative enabled the rehabilitation of the Pywat Ywar Pump Irrigation Scheme (PYPIS) in an area where farmers lacked the capacity to manage water effectively and there were frequent conflicts over water access. We introduced agricultural water management practices, and less water-dependent, high-value crops to boost farmer incomes while lowering demands on electricity. Most importantly, the initiative facilitated the creation of a water user association (WUA) – the first for a pump-based irrigation scheme in Myanmar – with members drawn from the five villages involved. By continuing to be operational and supplying water in an equitable and reliable manner during the Covid-19 pandemic, the WUA demonstrated the importance of building and supporting institutions that have adaptive capacity and the ability to serve farmer households, including the most vulnerable, and helping to protect them against climate shocks. IWMI also supported the development of guidelines for participatory irrigation management in pump-based schemes, endorsed by the government, with the aim of enabling communities to create and implement WUAs for pump-based irrigation schemes. There are approximately 300 such schemes operating in Myanmar.

Groundwater use is rapidly increasing in the GMS, as it is a valuable source of water in areas dependent on rainfall and situated far away from surface water sources. It is also a valuable supplement to irrigation due to its availability throughout the year and being less vulnerable to climate variability than surface water. However, information on groundwater availability is extremely limited. IWMI’s work on groundwater in the region offers integrated, socio-technical solutions that operate at different scales.

IWMI identified substantial potential for groundwater development in the drought-prone lowlands of central and southern Laos and is investigating this with farmers and policy makers in these areas. Our work coincided with a growing interest from the government in the potential for groundwater development to support national priorities, such as climate change adaptation, food security and market-oriented farming. This allowed us to contribute to the development of a new national groundwater action plan and policy. Groundwater management is also a development priority for the Government of Myanmar. IWMI led the groundwater resources component of Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Integrated River Basin Management Project. We are also investigating the sustainable use of artesian aquifers, and pilot testing a range of institutional and policy mechanisms for managing groundwater resources in the CDZ. In Vietnam, IWMI is working with the private sector to identify how better groundwater management can help to improve the production of coffee (a major export commodity), the sustainability of which is seriously threatened by groundwater depletion.

Fish and rice are among the most consumed foods in Southeast Asia. Therefore, freshwater fisheries are critical to the economies, and food and nutrition security of many countries in Southeast Asia. IWMI investigated how small-scale fisheries production can be sustained in multifunctional landscapes that include a mosaic of natural ecosystems and man-made water control infrastructure. A call for healthier and more sustainable food systems is placing new demands on how irrigation is developed and managed. Integrating fisheries into the planning, design, construction, operation and management of irrigation systems can increase their benefits, and enhance fisheries production and other ecosystem services. In collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WorldFish, IWMI has developed guidelines for the integration of fisheries into irrigation systems, with a particular focus on Myanmar and Cambodia. In Myanmar, we are also investigating how food systems can provide healthy diets, while reducing environmental degradation, and examining the potential opportunities, barriers and trade-offs in the scaling of fish, rice and water management innovations.

IWMI is investigating the life aspirations of young people to understand how these intersect with the small-scale fisheries sector in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar. We are also addressing the root causes of gender inequity in wetland management in Myanmar, and assisting with efforts to implement the Gulf of Mottama Management Plan. This research will inform the country’s National Wetland Policy, provide critical insights for strengthening the Ramsar Convention’s resolutions and guidance on gender, and provide methodologies for in-depth assessment of intersectionality.

Southeast Asia will experience an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, that can threaten the livelihoods of poor people who have limited adaptive capacity, and strongly affect water availability and agricultural production. The changes forecast include rising temperatures and some seasonal shifts in rainfall, with wetter wet seasons and longer, drier dry seasons. Agricultural production in many of the low-lying productive deltas (e.g., Mekong and Ayeyarwady) is likely to be adversely affected due to sea-level rise.

Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change. IWMI seeks to determine how farmers and other stakeholders can reduce climate-related risks by investing in adaptation innovations and strategies, including identifying factors that can influence the adoption of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices, and potential entry points for investment in CSA at scale. We are also developing models for future climate change scenarios in Myanmar, together with participatory approaches to assess the vulnerability of communities to water resources availability and accessibility.

he GMS has received massive investments for hydropower development, but little attention has been given to using dams to optimize benefits for water users, including riparian communities. Our research in Laos aims to generate knowledge around decisions on hydropower development at various levels, and to identify pathways to strengthen participation, representation and accountable decision-making. IWMI also aims to better understand the key drivers of food systems transformation in the context of hydropower development and transboundary water governance, and their implications for livelihood options and strategies.

Our work on linking land tenure security to state transformation in Southeast Asia seeks to better understand the interface between water and land rights systems in the context of natural resource governance across Laos and Myanmar in landscapes ranging from uplands to lowlands and wetlands. Key findings are being used to inform ongoing policy discussions around land and water management in these two countries, ensuring more inclusive decision-making.

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The water under your feet in Laos
The water beneath our feet is a valuable irrigation resource for farmers affected by drought in rural Laos, and can increase crop yields and income for farmers. Students at the...
Underground Taming of Floods for Irrigation
Millions of people in South and Southeast Asia face the prospect of catastrophic flooding each year. The floods destroy crops and infrastructure worth hundreds of millions of dollars. More info...

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Economics and equity

At IWMI, researching underlying economic and social trends helps us understand why people migrate. They also explain the impact of remittances and loss of agricultural labor, as well as consequences of migration on gender roles and food and water security. For instance, communities with higher levels of income inequality, or relative deprivation, may experience greater levels of out-migration compared to consistently low-income communities. In addition, migration changes intra-household gender-labor composition, which can change the access of smallholders to water resources, affecting the functioning of community-based institutions and consequently household and local food security. IWMI also focuses on circular economy, a strategy to recover and reuse waste, to boost food security and understand how interventions can encourage refugee and host communities to retain scarce resources.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Urban & rural transformation

As agricultural opportunities fluctuate in rural areas, migration, particularly to urban areas, is an adaptation technique to secure incomes and alternative livelihoods. Income generated by migrants is often sent back to family as remittances to support communities at home. At IWMI, we assess linkages between rural and urban areas, as well as the role of agricultural knowledge systems and food and water security. We recognize there are complex push and pull factors such as individual aspirations, economic opportunity, social norms, climate variability and government policies which drive migration and affect rural communities, particularly youth. Our work follows a ‘positive migration’ philosophy, framing migration as an adaptation technique and socio-economic choice (in many cases) rather than a problem to be solved, and focuses on establishing safer, more regular migration by supporting changes to migration governance in sending regions.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Covid-19 disruption & adaptation

Covid-19 has caused a rupture in migration logistics and exposed inequities in the migration system, yet drivers of movement remain. Government lockdowns and closed borders due to the pandemic curtailed movement for migrants, posing complex problems for migrant hosting and origin countries. There have been significant economic shocks, with a sharp decline in unemployment for migrants and an inability to send money home through remittances to support family. Some migrants face social stigma for returning home without an income, particularly if families relied on loans to support their journeys. Consequences have been severe for informal migrants who lack government protection in their host countries. Migrants, particularly those living in crowded, lower-income neighborhoods, have been experiencing stigmatization related to the spread of Covid-19. We look at the impacts of Covid-19 on migration governance and rural areas across seven countries, development planning in Ghana, migration challenges in Southeast Asia, and community-based disaster management and resilience building in South Africa.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Water, climate change and agrarian stress

Migration, water and climate stress are inextricably linked to rural development. Water stress and climate variability can act as a driver of fragility, intensifying pre-existing political, social, economic and environmental challenges. Initiatives designed to address migration-related challenges must tackle inequalities and the exclusion of women, youth and marginalized groups; governance opportunities to better manage water and natural resources and technology and innovations to help communities escape socio-ecological precarity and thrive despite climate challenges. IWMI intends to build climate resilience by implementing projects which tackle gender-power inequalities in the face of dynamic, economic-social-ecological challenges. Our work brings together affected communities, institutional stakeholders and social actors to manage water in response to climate variability and agrarian stress, striving to address complex physical and social variables.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender, intersectionality and social inclusion

It is critical to center gender and intersectional identities when unpacking migration phenomena. Gender as a social construct guides social norms and relations, including the decision-making processes and mechanisms leading to migration. We recognize that the intersections between race, age, class, sex, caste and region shape the migrant experience.

IWMI strives to offer transformative approaches and solutions for women, youth and marginalized groups, regarding them as equal partners in our work rather than passive end-users.  For example, within communities that experience male out migration, socio-political systems are restructured to make women, youth and other groups active agents in their own agri-food transformation. Migration patterns contribute to the feminization of agriculture, and women may experience a greater burden of responsibility coupled with an increased ability to access and control resources and policies to build sustainable livelihoods. Acknowledging social complexities helps researchers and communities understand migration trends and address structural power imbalances to build a more equitable world.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

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