WUAs as Building Blocks of Irrigation Management in the Fergana Valley

The emergence and practice of WUAs in the Fergana Valley cannot be understood without appreciating the history of irrigation management in the region. The chapter by Hermann Kreutzmann, analysing the trajectory of large-scale irrigation from Tsarist times to the present day, provides the necessary insight into the economic, political and sociocultural factors which have shaped this major water engineering project (Kreutzmann 2015, in this volume). In our chapter, we recollect three key factors of Fergana's irrigation system: its strong path dependency in both material and social terms, the powerful interdependence of water management and agricultural production and the conflictual nature of transboundary cooperation between today's independent post-socialist republics.

Early Origins of WUAs

In the Fergana Valley, WUAs were first established in the mid-1990s in Kyrgyzstan (Sehring 2009) but only in the early 2000s in Tajikistan (ibid) and in Uzbekistan (Hamidov 2007; Abdullaev et al. 2009). In all instances, the driving forces behind these reforms included the deterioration of on-farm water infrastructure, unequal distribution of water, frequent conflicts amongst water users, inefficient irrigation methods and significant reduction of the state budget for local irrigation administration. In the case of Uzbekistan, for example, during 1991–2000, there was a serious deterioration of the secondary and tertiary canal systems because former collective and state farms could not operate and maintain irrigation canals due to inadequate funding. This resulted in low yields and, subsequently, low incomes for farmers. Meanwhile, the distribution of irrigation water became severely unequal, especially for downstream farmers. Disputes amongst farmers over water increased. It became important to introduce farmer-based organisations in place of the poorly functioning collective farms. In 1996, the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources (MAWR) of Uzbekistan contracted the Irrigation and Water Problems Research Institute (former SANIIRI) to study the experience of different countries with WUAs and to set up a framework for the establishment of WUAs. In 1999, SANIIRI completed the study and presented its recommendations to MAWR. As a result, the first WUA was created in Uzbekistan in February 2000 in the Khorezm Region (Hamidov 2007). The first WUAs in the Uzbek section of the Fergana Valley were founded in January 2002 (MAWR RUz 2014).

Critical behind the emergence of WUAs was the IWRM Fergana project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation from 2001 onwards. This transboundary project helped institutionalise IWRM as the guiding policy paradigm for the region (Gunchinmaa and Yakubov 2010, p. 166; Dukhovny et al. 2013). A key element of this IWRM-inspired reform process was to transfer operation and maintenance responsibilities for on-farm irrigation to water users in the form of WUAs. This new governance structure at the lower level was, in theory at least, intended to encourage local farmers to act collectively in managing and maintaining their irrigation systems. Additional institutional arrangements, such as the irrigation service fee, were also introduced by this reform.

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