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Irrigated Agriculture Scoping Study

Lower Songkhram River Basin
27 March - 8 April 2005

Location: Districts of Sakhon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom Province lying in the floodplain areas of the Lower Songkhram River Basin  

In an effort to address a comparative lack of data on present agricultural and irrigation practices in the Lower Songkhram River Basin Demonstration Site area in relation to overall landuse and wetland resource use by local communities, an irrigated agriculture scoping study was conceived to bridge some of the missing knowledge gaps. It is considered that the results of such a study would be useful to both Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme (MWBP) project work and other concerned agencies, in better understanding the existing agricultural practices in order to make more informed plans and policies with regard to wetlands use and water management.
A small, multi-disciplinary team of researchers was formed from three Khon Kaen University lecturers, comprising an agronomist, economist and sociologist; with many years of combined experience in participatory, field-based research methodologies. The research team, using a Rapid Rural Assessment / Participatory Rural Appraisal approach, were able to scope out a wide variety of water sources, irrigation types, agroecosystems and water users across a cross-section of socio-economic groups, from agribusiness to the poorest sectors of society. They also interviewed local community leaders and held a meeting with a Tambon Administration Organisation (TAO), the decentralized local government body being increasingly given responsibility for planning, building and maintaining irrigation systems and water supply infrastructure, at the same time as nominally being responsible for natural resource management in the sub-district.

The researchers were accompanied into the field by local IUCN-MWBP staff, provincial and district agricultural staff and on occasions, Thai Baan researchers. On the final day of the study, a workshop was held in Nakhon Phanom for a wide variety of provincial stakeholders concerned with agriculture and water management, from both the government and civil society sectors. The objectives of this workshop were to share the results of the preliminary findings from the scoping study and elicit feedback and discussion on present and future plans for water use development and agriculture in the Lower Songkhram River Basin. The workshop generated a lively exchange of views, highlighting the present diversity of opinions and gaps in understanding between villager’s views and experiences, and that of state agencies charged with planning irrigation development.

It was noted that there are plans for large-scale irrigation projects across the Lower Songkhram River Basin. Feedback from local people would suggest that they are primarily concerned with practicing small-scale and subsistence agriculture, while the agribusiness models of development promoted by central government during the past three decades have not lived up to earlier productivity expectations and are now in a period of decline.

The study report is now in the process of being drafted by the authors and Thai and English versions of the report are expected to be available by July 2005.