Irrigation development in Southeast Asia beyond 2000: Will the future be like the past uri icon


  • Changes can be summarized in terms of shifts in three basic concepts related to irrigation. The first relates to the nature of irrigation itself, which is seen as changing from a social good to an economic one. The second relates to the perception of what an irrigation system is obliged to supply. This perception has earlier changed from simply constructing irrigation facilities to providing irrigation water to farmers. Now, in many places, a further shift is occurring in which the irrigation system is seen as supplying irrigation service to farmers. The latter requires a much more detailed awareness of patterns of demand for irrigation water and imposes significant new responsibilities on the service providers. The third conceptual shift involves water rights. Changes here will lead to more precise specification of rights, devolution of rights from the state to smaller entities, and systems allowing for transfers of rights among parties.
  • During the 1980s, external irrigation investment in Asia fell by about 50 per cent compared to levels prevailing in the 1970s. As a consequence, the rate of expansion of irrigated area in the region has fallen to less than 0.5 per cent per year from earlier highs of 2.0 to 2.5 per cent. A variety of factors are responsible for these reductions, though principal ones are the general abundance of food grain in the world, the resultant low level of projected future prices, and the rapidly escalating capital cost of surface irrigation development In general the drop in new investment appears to be a rational response to these conditions.
  • Four fundamental forces can be expected to drive coming changes in Southeast Asian irrigation. These are (a) technology, (b) economic liberalization, (c) competition for water, and (d) environmental and health concerns. A variety of implications can be drawn from a consideration of these forces, taken together with past trends, respecting irrigation investment patterns, performance of existing systems, water costs, prices, and markets; changes in cropping patterns; and new roles for government and farmers.
  • The era of massive expansion of irrigated agriculture in Asia has ended. The period we now enter is one of significant policy and institutional change aimed at more efficient resource use and reduced environmental damage.

publication date

  • 1994
  • 1994