New Community Organizations Need Longer Training to Perform Effectively
This post presents findings from the recent Feed the Future impact evaluation on the Impact of Water Users Associations (WUAs) on Water and Land Productivity, Equity and Food Security in Tajikistan. Join our upcoming seminar to learn more!
Reforms in water governance are taking place across the globe, as governments seek more cost-effective and equitable ways to manage a critical resource for development. To this end, national institutions are transferring to local communities much of the responsibility for decisions and tasks involved in water management. At the same time, governments are preparing communities to handle these responsibilities efficiently by organizing them into participatory institutions and by training them in self-governance.
What can be done to ensure that these newly created institutions function effectively, especially in countries that are struggling to make the transition from state-controlled to decentralized economies? One such country is Tajikistan in Central Asia, where recent research suggests that the duration of the training offered to members of community-based institutions is a key factor for improving their performance.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, civil war broke out in Tajikistan. With the departure of Soviet specialists, irrigation infrastructure and management collapsed. When the civil war ended, Soviet-era collective farms were “decollectivized” into private farms. The state irrigation departments, which had been created to serve large collectives, proved unable to meet the needs of thousands of smaller private farms, where production decisions were no longer coordinated. This led to a major disruption in the delivery of irrigation water to farms.
To address this problem, the government of Tajikistan, with technical assistance provided by USAID, drafted the Water User Association Law of 2006, mandating that water user associations (or WUAs) would be the institution responsible for delivering water to farms. In response to a government request for further international assistance, USAID set up WUAs under the Feed the Future Program in Tajikistan. Since then, the government and other donor agencies have used the training program and materials designed by USAID to establish additional WUAs. More than 400 are now registered and functioning in the country.
There is a key difference, however, between the WUAs set up by USAID and those established by other agencies — namely, the duration of the training. The former received training in water management and participatory decision-making over a period of 20-24 months, and this involved repeated interaction with the trainers. The WUAs set up by the government, in contrast, received only 3-6 months of training, using essentially the same training materials as those provided by USAID. The shorter duration of this training was consistent with the practice of other countries, such as India, where training was provided in support of efforts to decentralize irrigation management.
According to the results of recent research, the WUAs that received training for a longer period perform better. Primarily as a result of their lengthier interaction with the trainers, they recover membership fees from 19 percent more neighbors and carry out routine repairs and maintenance of irrigation canals more frequently.
In countries that are replacing centralized systems with participatory governance, it is common for new institutions to emerge. Where local communities have little previous experience with collective management, it is logical for them to require an incubation period to build the necessary knowledge and skills. There is no strict formula for determining the length of the training that WUAs receive; this will depend on local history and on the people involved. Clearly, however, longer training is a key requirement for these young institutions to function effectively and deliver high-quality services to their communities.