Accelerating Agricultural Growth—Is Irrigation Institutional Reform Necessary? (Distinguishedl Lecture)

John W. Mellor


The right to the flow of income from water is vigorously
pursued, protected, and fought over in any arid part of the world.
Pakistan is of course no exception. Reform of irrigation institutions
necessarily changes the rights to water, whether it be those of farmers,
government, or government functionaries. Those perceived rights may be
explicit and broadly accepted, or simply takings that are not even
considered legitimate. Nevertheless they will be fought over. Pakistan
has a long history of proposals for irrigation reform, little or none
being implemented, except as isolated pilot projects. Thus, to propose
major changes in irrigation institutions must be clearly shown to have
major benefits to justify the hard battles that must be fought and the
goodwill of those who might win those battles for reform. Proponents of
irrigation institution reform have always argued the necessity of the
reforms and the large gains to be achieved. Perhaps, however, those
arguments have not been convincing. This paper will briefly outline the
failed attempts at irrigation reform to provide an element of reality to
the discussion. It will then proceed to make the case of the urgency of
reform in a somewhat different manner to the past. Finally, current
major reform proposals will be presented. This paper approaches
justification of irrigation reform by focusing on the agricultural
growth rate. It does so because that is the critical variable
influencing poverty rates and is a significant determinant of over-all
economic growth rates. The paper decomposes growth rates and suggests a
residual effect of deterioration of the irrigation system that is large
and calls for policy and institutional reform. The data are notional,
suggesting the usefulness of the approach and paves the way for more
detailed empirical analysis and enquiry for the future.

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