Reflections on Elinor Ostrom's Studies of Nepal Farmer-Managed Irrigation Systems with Prachanda Pradhan

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Prachanda Pradhan, Birendra Karna, and Harini Nagendra talk about the work of Elinor Ostrom in Nepal. Professor Pradhan introduced Elinor Ostrom to Nepali farmer-managed irrigation systems in 1989. Nepal has tremendous geographical diversity, resulting in important differences among hill and plane or valley irrigation systems. Prachanda Pradhan had collected many case studies on Nepal's hill and Terai (marsh, grassland, and savannah) irrigation systems. Elinor Ostrom brought her graduate students to these areas to collect more cases, resulting in a vast database from which she deduced important principles of self-governance. Taking these principles back to the field for verification and further analysis led to the important findings discussed in several works including Governing the Commons. Among the most important conclusions to be taken from the Nepal irrigation studies is the simple fact that when it comes to a well-functioning irrigation system, the community's participation--self-governance in collective action--matters more than the physical infrastructure--concrete and engineering plans. The farmers know how to build and maintain their irrigation systems. It takes knowledge of their physical environment, the users and uses of the system, an ability to monitor use, and the basic right to put this knowledge into action. Based on generations of knowledge about their own physical and community circumstances, in other words their social-ecological system, user groups like the Nepali farmers have a great deal to tell us about self-government. Geographer Harini Nagendra and Forester Birendra Karna take us into the field where Elinor Ostrom and her students collected data to show us these findings.

Video - 17 mins

See also Elinor Ostrom