Development worker Gulshan aims to help a group of farmers take collective ownership of their floodwater harvesting system. Empowering them to share in its management presents many environmental, social, and economic challenges. He wonders: is a shared governance solution the best way forward? As Gulshan began his venture on behalf of DHAN Foundation, a development organization whose reach covers 81 mostly rural districts across India, he learned that the farmers he’d be working with in the eastern Indian region of Bihar were struggling because their irrigation channels were clogged with silt. They had the option of contracting a private company to make repairs to the system, but were dissatisfied with how this had gone five years ago, as it had silted up again quickly. They were also frustrated that support from any level of government seemed impossible to obtain. Gulshan’s fact-gathering opened a few possibilities, in his mind at least, for community-based management of the important resource: a traditional irrigation system called Ahar-Pyne. However, for this to happen many barriers would need to be overcome, including long-standing conflicts of caste, land ownership, and money.
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