Abdul Hakim Khoso is organizing small farmers to ensure that they have the right to access irrigated water from Pakistan's vast system of canals.
The New Idea
Through Pakistan's court system, Abdul Hakim Khoso has won the judgment that small farmers have a legal right to irrigated water as a basic human right as well as the court's willingness to see to it that these rights are respected by larger farmers as well as the government authorities legally responsible for maintaining the canal system. With this right established and the court having established its willingness to continue to intervene in these matters, Abdul Hakim Khoso took the next step, by providing small farmers an alternate system through which irrigation water can be managed and distributed more efficiently.
Pakistan ranks fifth in the world and third among the developing countries in terms of the size of irrigated area. Its 4:1 ratio of irrigated to unirrigated area is the highest in the world. It also has the largest single contiguous irrigation system in the world with 3 major storage reservoirs, 19 barrages, 12 huge inter-river link canals, 37,000 miles of irrigation canals and more than a million miles of water courses and field channels. This huge network of irrigation serves 43 command areas with 95,000 sub divisions called chaks.
Rahuki Minor is one of the three canals emanating from the Hyderabad Branch Canal at the Hoosri Regulator. Rahuki Minor commands 24,000 acres, and gives rise to 52 water courses (officially). The main crops are wheat and cotton, and the orchards include Mango and Guava. The canal functioned satisfactorily until the end of the sixties, when it was maintained by the bigger landlords. From the seventies onwards, the canal and the regulator started to fall into disrepair. The lack of annual repair and cleaning caused silting of the canal. In addition, the head area farmers started to draw out large quantities of water with the help of pumps. As a result, the head area has started to suffer from water logging and salinity. A minimum of 2000 acres have been affected and the yield of local mango orchards has decreased significantly. In the tail end area 75% of the 8000 acres of land has become barren, and the villagers were forced to lease out 2000 acres of this barren land to brick kiln operators. In turn, the smoke from brick kilns has had a disastrous effect on the surrounding crops. Presently, about 5% of the total farm area is being cultivated. The farmers buy their water from a line channel.
Given this scenario, farmers from the tail end area approached Abdul Hakim to help them in resolving the irrigation water issue. Abdul Hakim organized the farmers though a village organization that he had founded called the Bhitai Welfare Association (BWA). The BWA started lobbying the government's irrigation department and the district administration of Hyderabad, to provide them with water. The irrigation department refused to listen to the BWA despite orders from the minister. The district administration, however, noted the complaints and ordered an inquiry. The inquiry showed that excess water was being drawn by the head and mid area farmers and that annual repair and cleaning had not been undertaken for more than a decade. Consequently, the canal and watercourse were silted and the head of the regulator needed repair.
Similar problems with water management are found throughout the irrigated land of Pakistan. As a result, food production is significantly less than what can be achieved on much of the farmland.
In 1993 Abdul Hakim organized the farmers in the tail end area of Rahuki Minor and formed an umbrella association of all the Abadgar (farmer) associations called the Rahuki Tail Abadgar Association (RTAA). Under article 199 of the constitution, they initiated proceedings, asking the state to provide water as a basic human right. The district human rights court ordered government officials to ensure the required flow of water at all costs.
The irrigation department developed an expensive irrigation plan, but the RTAA insisted that the plan could be implemented at a much lower cost. Eventually, through negotiations, the cost was reduced to one tenth of the original projection. Because the irrigation department was delaying the whole process, Abdul Hakim approached OXFAM to help in funding the work. Through OXFAM's assistance, watercourses were rehabilitated and a board was formed for maintenance. In this manner the Rahuki Canal area has been rehabilitated and managed. As a result, farming has increased and people are coming back to their homes and fields. Income per capita has increased and health and social conditions are improving.
Abdul Hakim now feels that other farmers suffering the same problems should benefit from this experience. Already, villagers from the neighboring areas are organizing themselves to rehabilitate their irrigation systems. He is now trying to spread the lessons learnt through this experiment to neighboring farmers affected by canal siltation.
Abdul Hakim plans to use advocacy and networking and the main tools in helping the farmers of Sindh to get rid of this problem. He is using the Rahuki experience as a demonstration model to explain the process and organization. Presently about 10,000 acres have been rehabilitated. However, there still remains another 50,000 acres which can be improved through this process in the immediate area of Sindh where he is working.
Abdul Hakim views the collaboration between farmers as the basis for replicating the Rahuki Canal success. For this purpose, the forming of Abadgar associations is an important first step. The second step is to build a network between the Abadgar associations, donors, community organizations, and relevant government departments. The network is used to advocate the rights and responsibilities for each actor with an emphasis on the fulfillment of responsibilities by government and user groups. A representative committee led by the community organization is then formed to monitor the implementation of the work. Finally, a maintenance committee of users is instituted and the responsibilities of users identified.
Abdul Hakim is already in contact with villagers in the neighboring canal areas. An Abadgar association has also started working in this area. The role of Abdul Hakim is to advise the Abadgar association and advocate their cause by helping them to develop a network and lobbying with the relevant government departments.
Abdul Hakim's strategy in expanding his work is also quite focused. He plans to move upstream from branch canal to minors, and eventually to the main distribution channels, coming in contact with local farmers. He will organize these farmers into groups and create a liaison with the concerned government departments. He believes his efforts can go a long way in improving the irrigation system, making it more rational and equitable, and in the process, creating motivated rural communities which are aware enough to demand their due share in the water resources of the country. All this in the long run will definitely have an impact on yields and soil conditions.
The provincial government is also sensitive to water management issues. They have instituted a joint board for water management. However, user representation on the board is not sufficient. Abdul Hakim feels local elites will be nominated as community representatives, thereby eliminating the representation of the poor. He is now lobbying to streamline the nomination system so that tail end farmers also get representation. NGOs like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), OXFAM, etc. are also taking a keen interest in this issue. Their financial and networking support is proving valuable in disseminating the idea and motivating the villagers to resolve the root problems causing rural poverty.
Abdul Hakim belongs to the Khoso tribe settled in the village Thando Khoso. Abdul Hakim is the first person from his tribe to be educated. Since his school days, he has been involved in organizing meetings and coordinating tasks. When in class nine, he went looking for a job to support his cost of education. He became employed as a proofreader in Aftab, a local daily, and associated with a children's organization supported and patronized by the editor. From there he went on to highlight the problems of children. After completing his studies in paramedical (nursing) assistance, he joined the government's health department and started work in his own village.
From 1984, he was associated with his village organization and played an active role, often using judicial channels to resolve problems between many government elite and his village. This once resulted in jail time for Abdul Hakim, whom the government elite felt was becoming too powerful among the masses. Eventually Abdul Hakim was vindicated when the police officials concerned were transferred and Abdul Hakim was awarded damages.
In 1991, Abdul Hakim formed his own village organization, the Bhittai Welfare Association. The BWA concentrated on organizing health camps and supporting the education of school children. In 1993, seeing the sincere efforts of Abdul Hakim, villagers from the tail end area of Rahuki Minor approached him to resolve the irrigation problem.