Myanmar farmers see incomes increase

The Central Dry Zone of Myanmar covers just 13% of the country and is home to about a third of its people. It is the most water-scarce, least food-secure region in the country. However, completion of an IWMI-led project in 2019 points to a better, more climate-resilient future.

Government investment in the past resulted in some 300 pump-based irrigation schemes across the Dry Zone, a few of which are meeting their potential. However, problems range from poor maintenance of distribution canals through the cost of pumping to inequities of distribution. To combat these problems and put water management on a more sustainable footing, IWMI piloted a Water User Association (WUA) that gives farmers an important voice in managing the government’s Pyawt Ywar Pump Irrigation Scheme.

Pyawt Ywar takes water from the Mu River near Myinmu Township in Sagaing Region, about 70 kilometers west of Mandalay. The river should be able to supply water for about 2,025 hectares. However, less than a third of this has been achieved in recent years. As part of the project, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) undertook repairs of the irrigation infrastructure. While this was being done, IWMI worked with Myanmar’s Irrigation and Water Utilization Management Department (IWUMD) and the local people to set up the WUA.

A succession of workshops across the area brought together canal representatives, community leaders, the government and, most importantly, farmers, ensuring that even the poorest and most marginal had a voice. One source of conflict that surfaced from the constructive discussions was power asymmetries among the villages, based partly on their location relative to the pumping stations and to one another.

The solution was a multi-layer set up, in which the WUA oversees three pumping station coordination committees and 18 Water User Groups that include 53 subgroups. At the end of the pilot project in 2019, the WUA comprised 693 registered members, who have together developed processes to negotiate outcomes that minimize conflict.

Managing the water supply, however, is only part of the solution. It is also important to ensure that the water is used efficiently. The cultivation of rice, in the Central Dry Zone, is not the most attractive option. Farmers in the project learned how to improve the production of pulses, and to grow vegetables, fruit trees and other high-value crops such as chilies. These crops create a win-win situation in the water-energy-food nexus, as they require less water and energy, thereby reducing the pressure on irrigation infrastructure and preventing water-related conflicts. As a result, and with the shift to the cultivation of high-value crops within the season, many farmers have already seen their incomes increase.

This shift has just started and has a great deal of potential. If it continues, not only will farmers earn more, but the Pyawt Ywar Pump Irrigation Scheme could triple the irrigated area. The successful pilot allowed IWMI to publish a set of guidelines, currently used by IWUMD, to establish a WUA in other pump-based irrigation schemes in the Central Dry Zone of Myanmar and, quite possibly, beyond.


The Pyawt Ywar Pump Irrigation Project is funded by the Livelihoods and Food Security Fund (LIFT). Implementing partners are the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) together with the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), National Engineering and Planning Services (NEPS), Welthungerhilfe (WHH), and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

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