Focusing on water resources and irrigation, this paper documents a talk by Michael Lipton exploring approaches to poverty alleviation in developing Asia. The talk discusses the findings of a recent paper ‘Pro-poor intervention strategies in irrigated agriculture in Asia: poverty in irrigated agriculture - realities, issues, and options with guidelines’. It looks at a number of topical issues such as irrigation in relation to access and global poverty, irrigation corruption, and sustainability.
The study discussed rests upon household surveys in 2001-2 in 26 major and medium canal irrigation systems (and adjoining rainfed areas) in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and Vietnam. The surveys showed that in the rainfed areas, crop yields are typically half those in the adjoining irrigated areas, and that the landless in irrigated areas enjoy ‘much higher’ wage-rates and employment. Hence typically ‘poverty incidence is 20-30 per cent higher in rainfed than adjoining canal-irrigated settings.
The speaker notes, however, that there are big differences, among and within systems, in irrigation’s efficiency, equity, and thus poverty impact. He asks, what determines the cost-effectiveness of irrigation as a sustainable remedy for poverty (a) in irrigated areas, (b) by spreading to new areas?
Key points include:
whether management of water for farming is pro-poor depends on its sustainable impact on growth, stability and distribution of consumption, and of other indicators of well-being
the study gives strong evidence that more equal distribution of land and irrigation is not only pro-poor but also efficient
changes in incentives and institutions alone can bring rapid progress in solving most major problems of Asian canal irrigation, improving its economic efficiency and poverty impact
the main disincentive for aid to irrigation has been the growing doubt about side-effects: on health, on uncompensated land loss from new works (especially among indigenous populations), and on environmental sustainability
we need to look at the results of this project to examine the causes of collapse in irrigation investment, and about cost-effective, pro-poor ways to remedy that collapse
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