This profile was prepared when Ganesh Pangare was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Ganesh is restructuring the way farmers and the state interact over the crucial matter of water–specifically, the maintenance, management, and financing of irrigation systems. For decades the government, through its irrigation department, was solely responsible for building and servicing agricultural waterways, yet the quality of service was poor, and many farmers did not get the water they needed. Ganesh is steering a meaningful transfer of power away from the dysfunctional irrigation bureaucracy and toward citizens by helping state governments design new systems and at the same time working with farmers to create democratic water users' associations. By providing detailed implementation plans to state governments, forging agreements with irrigation authorities, and helping farmers form effective groups, Ganesh is in effect guiding large parts of rural India through a major economic and political transformation. But Ganesh's vision for the network extends beyond setting up local water boards and helping them to manage user fees. He sees the emergence of the users' associations as an opportunity to engage Indian farmers in larger issues of natural resource management. In fact, by sharing his experiences and fostering similar efforts around the world, Ganesh hopes to position farmers in the growing world dialogue on water management.