Cambodia is currently embarked on a significant programme of irrigation development. The technical design of irrigation projects has generally improved, but there remain a number of challenges in the governance of irrigation that inhibit the schemes from working effectively, equitably and sustainably. This study investigates the extent to which the governance of irrigation matches the requirements of diverse irrigation schemes through detailed ethnographic study of three schemes: Rolous and Stung Chinit in Kampong Thom province and Damnak Ampil (DAP) in Pursat province. Specifically, it investigates (1) the degree of match between the governance arrangements and requirements imposed by the physical configuration of these schemes, and (2) ways in which stipulated governance arrangements have been modified in response to local requirements.
The study found discrepancies between actual governance practices and the ideal governance principles, as outlined in Participatory Irrigation Management Development (PIMD) and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), and the spatial and infrastructural context of the schemes. Specifically, it was observed that the scale of the command areas is beyond the scope of Farmer Water User Community (FWUC) members and activists who do not have adequate technical knowledge or finances to repair, develop, and maintain irrigation infrastructure across their respective schemes. Second, the actual practice of irrigation management at the scheme and sub-scheme level diverges significantly from the principles of PIMD and IWRM. For example, the actual roles of the FWUCs fall short of those stipulated in their mandate and are not particularly well-executed.
The strongest role of the FWUCs across different case-study schemes is that of a mediator between farmers and PDOWRAM, rather than their principal mandate of competently managing the schemes. The FWUCs also have a role in allocating water from primary and secondary canals, resolving minor conflicts between farmers within the community, and collecting Irrigation Service Fees; however, the execution of these tasks is inconsistent and often lacking. The findings conclude that the current governance arrangements deviate from both the requirements imposed by the physical configuration of the schemes and the idealised theoretical governance purported in the PIMD policies. The study then suggests that to fix the problems, changes need to be made to policy and FWUC mandates as well as to the governance structure to provide more support to FWUCs and to adapt them to be more closely aligned with existing governance frameworks.