Since the end of the nineties, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has initiated a policy to extend irrigated agriculture as a mean to cover food security and to alleviate poverty in the country. This policy is translated into the construction of new infrastructures and the rehabilitation of old irrigation schemes with the financial and technical support of external donors.

The large majority of Cambodian farmers (80%) still depend on rainfed lowland rice cultivation during the monsoon season facing regular drought and floods events. According to some estimates, irrigation would be available only for about 20% of the country rice growing area. More 2,500 schemes are identified around the country, but actually, over half of these irrigation schemes are either not functioning at all or have a very low performance and infrastructures are in poor condition. Most schemes developed before the war have been destroyed or lacked maintenance, but this situation is also found in more recently rehabilitated schemes due to inappropriate initial designs, the lack of maintenance and a very low farmers’ involvement in irrigation management.

Since 1999, the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MOWRAM) set up a policy called “Participatory Irrigation Management and Development” (PIMD) for setting up Farmer Water Users Communities (FWUC) and transferring to them the irrigation schemes management. The government objective is to ensure a higher sustainability of operation and maintenance for newly built or rehabilitated schemes. The Circular no1 on “the Implementation Policy for sustainable Irrigation Systems” and the ministerial prakas no306 which have been promulgated in 2000 provide the institutional basis on which FWUC can be created. It stipulates that FWUC are registered by the government as entities in charge of development, operation and maintenance of irrigation schemes in partnership with the government. It specifies as well that users have to cover the costs of operation and routine maintenance by themselves.

Nowadays there are more than300 FWUC recorded. And more than 100 out of them are officially registered at MOWRAM level. Most of unregistered FWUC were created by the Provincial Departments of MOWRAM (PDOWRAM) in order to prepare rehabilitation plans and requests. Most of their committees are not working, do not collect Irrigation Service Fee (ISF) and rarely ensure basic maintenance. Up to now, due to a lack of human resources and financial means, PDOWRAM has not been able to sustain its support to FWUC further than the short-term process of their creation. In many cases further support is provided through external donors funded projects and is limited to project duration. At the end of the project implementation, FWUC have limited capacities and tools to ensure a sustainable management of their schemes and external support are ended.