Many farms in tropical countries suffer from droughts in the dry season and sometimes even in the rainy season. In order to significantly increase the capacity to store water, the grassroots Farmer Wisdom movement in Northeast Thailand innovated pond construction on homesteads. This Working Paper first documents how pond water is mainly used to irrigate crops and fruit trees, and is also used for livestock or fish, and for domestic uses, even if ample piped water is available. Households were also found to harvest rainwater from roofs; take water from canals and streams; lift water manually from shallow wells and with electric pumps from deep wells; channel run-off from roads to paddy fields; use precipitation as green water on fields; and buy bottled water. Most households combine at least six of these nine water sources. The second part describes scenarios and some outcomes of a new simulation model, BoNam. This model provides guidelines for the optimal size and site of such ponds according to biophysical factors (weather, soil and crops), socioeconomic factors (prices, availability of labor and off-farm income) and household aspirations
Many rural households in North East Thailand grow cassava and other food crops on sandy upland soil and rice on lowland clayey soil. These crops provide only a small income and the simple farming system leads to land degradation. In the 1990s, some farmers initiated management changes and developed integrated farming. Farmer networks emerged to counteract recent social and physical degradation. Successful methods include use of water for multiple productive purposes and integrated farming. The new way of farming is appreciated by the national government. It gives support through subsidies and a new water law that will give responsibility for rural water management to new local Water Resources Committees.
The optimal size of farm ponds in N.E. Thailand with respect to farming style and multiple uses of water and under various biophysical and socio-economic conditions
Multiple uses of water (MUS) have been traditionally practiced in Thailand for a long time, until the introduction of specific objectives of water use during the past 50 years. Single uses of water resources then became normalized according to the mandate of government sectors on water resource development. This was partly due to limited understanding and lack of information and knowledge about the specific purposes of the development projects of government agencies. Despite the severe reduction in the level of multiple uses in modern development programs, many leading villagers are still developing multiple-use practices at household and farm levels. They could achieve various objectives of integrated water resource management for a successful economy, improved livelihoods, and resource resilience.
Northeast of Thailand is one of main sub-regions of the lower Mekong basin. The rainfalls are moderately low to very low, from 900 mm to 1600 mm annually. Due to the generally flat landscape, capacity of the land to keep water naturally is low only along water ways and depression areas. These water resources were the main natural water resources for the past prior National Development Plans 1-9 from 1961 to present. During the early phase of development, massive forest encroachment for upland crop production has severely degraded natural water resources, on top of land and natural foods. Land carrying capacity was eventually declined and initiated migration of the rural people to the cities. The migration has been coincided with industrial development. However, livelihoods as labors in the cities even further degraded due to family separation.
In the development there were numbers of water resource development but due to low rainfalls and flat landscape, available water resource for irrigation is only around 5% of agricultural lands, and limited to some locations with relatively undulating terrains. On the other hand, general sandy soils with less than 10% clay contents did not allow sufficient water storage in the soil profiles. Moreover underlying rock salt in most part of the region even further limits the use of ground water due to salinity problems. As a result, main strategy for water use of most farmers is to rely on harvesting of rain water for MUS with various strategies.
With desperation of living constraints in rural and subsequently cities, around 30 years ago some farmers have initiated self-reliant systems for primarily household sufficiency on water resource and foods. The most primary strategies were water resource management of effective rain water harvesting by diversion of runoff to farm ponds. The water has been used for multiple uses for both home-uses and production system. In some cases, small shallow wells could be dug close to main water resource for cleaner drinking and home-use. However, in later stages with corrugated iron roofing, drinking water is usually directly collected from roof gutters and kept in jars. Water in farm ponds has been primarily uses for fishery, vegetables, poultry, piggery, cattle, and home industries. In some years if the collected water were sufficient, it may be applied to rice nurseries or even paddy fields during dry spells. With the sufficiency system, simultaneously they could also develop add-on cash generations and self support retirement plans.
As successful examples, around 15 years ago non-government organizations such as World Vision, Population and Community Development Organization, etc. have further supported development and networking of leading farmers for further knowledge development and networking. The support has further strengthened knowledge development and sharing. With the realistic successes at both household and community levels, gradually, farmer leaders were invited to be advisers to government development plans at various hierarchies. The leaders activities have further attracted government development funds to support farmer networks at various aspects, from health to agriculture and environment. As a result, national development plans have been transformed towards bottom up and participatory approaches with various degrees of success. Currently, both government and non-government organizations have joined to work with local organizations for more effective development programs. At the same times, farmer leaders have become involved with most of development plans from social, agriculture, natural resource through environment issues. However, constraints of the development are still on development alternatives of limited water resources at household and farm scales.
With the new policy of Governor CEO strategies, water resource management is a high priority program that still needs technical supports from research at household scale. The constraints have derived from conventional large scale irrigation system that hardly reached poor families. Despite a numbers of small scale irrigation projects; the scale is somewhat square kilometers that hardly reach the poor households. Therefore, participatory technology development at household and farm scale could be potential activities for development of the water resource management systems. The learning alliance approach would be also examples for the rest of Mekong basin for sustainable water resource management plans, such as Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.