Japanese irrigation management at the crossroads

Masayoshi Satoh
University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan; satoh.masayoshi@gmail.com

Atsushi Ishii
University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan; ishii.atsushi.fu@u.tsukuba.ac.jp

ABSTRACT: To achieve the goals of irrigation projects, governments need to ensure appropriate operations and maintenance. The Japanese government has established a national-level participatory irrigation management (PIM) approach since 17th century and the Japanese farmers presently operate and maintain entire irrigation systems at their own cost under the Land Improvement Act enacted in 1949. However, whether this Japanese system is relevant to other countries remains unclear. This paper aims to characterise the PIM system in detail; it analyses its background conditions and extracts implications for successful PIM methodology. To that end, we mobilised and compared all relevant information regarding legal aspects, practices and statistics. We concluded that: 1) farmers’ involvement from the initial planning stages – which is a requirement of the Japanese government’s application system for irrigation projects – is critical if projects are to succeed; 2) resolving farmers’ conflicts and coordination in advance are the key to success; 3) while transferring all facility management to the farmer irrigation association known as the Land Improvement District (LID), the government must constantly supervise and support the LID; 4) the experiences of Japan are relevant to countries that have small-scale farming systems; and 5) there is a rapid shift underway in the primary actors of Japanese agriculture in rural villages, from many small-scale farmers to a limited number of large-scale farmers. This transformation may require reshaping the Japanese model to adapt to new circumstances.

KEYWORDS: Participatory irrigation management, mura (a feudal village of Japan), farmer cooperation, indirect government intervention, large-scale farmers, Japan