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Lessons learned from Pakistan on Citizen Action to Secure Water Rights for Farmers

How can we best mobilise farmers to secure their water rights? Our new Citizen Monitoring and Advocacy Learning Brief explores the achievements, challenges and lessons in helping farmers access and control water sources.

Women farmers in Sindh, Pakistan - Photo Credit: Asian Development Bank Women farmers in Sindh, Pakistan - Photo Credit: Asian Development Bank

Accessing water is vital for farmers in developing countries. Between 2017 and 2020 in Sindh Province, Pakistan, Trócaire supported farmers in exercising their right to access and control water resources, and thereby to benefit from the sustainable use and management of water for agriculture.

We documented our experience of promoting active participation of farmers in water governance at district level and empowering them to advocate for a provincial water policy that would benefit the most marginalised farmers, especially women.

Our findings from this four-year programme are now published in a Learning Brief based on reports, staff reflections, surveys and focus group discussions with community members and organised farmer groups.

In terms of enabling Citizen Monitoring and Advocacy, Trócaire supported partners to focus on two core processes:

  • Capacity building of farmers to know and claim their water rights. This was done via awareness raising on different topics and for different target groups through training and the wide distribution of information. Related laws and policies were translated into the local Sindhi language.
  • Strengthening the decision-making committees of the organised farmer groups.

In terms of direct Citizen Monitoring and Advocacy, Trócaire supported the following strategies:

  • Participation of farmer groups in consultations with district water authorities to get their needs and priorities reflected in water infrastructure rehabilitation schemes.
  • Advocacy by farmer groups, partner organisations and Trócaire to influence the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) in the development of a provincial water policy. Trócaire’s engagement included funding policy research, training on the rights-based approach and stakeholder consultations.

Trócaire, partners and the farmer groups had some key achievements

  • In 2020, there was an increase of almost 25% in rights awareness compared to 2019, and 98% of the men and 96% of the women surveyed reported having better access to information. This enabled farmers to resolve local level water related disputes, challenges or problems without any external influence.
  • Improved coordination and collaboration among farmer groups, the Area Water Board, SIDA and relevant government agencies and increased actions by vulnerable farming communities to claim their right to access and control water resources.
  • Improved accountability and service delivery due to strengthened community committees’ performance in local water governance.
  • Successful advocacy led to SIDA producing a working paper on developing a provincial water policy.

Three lessons learned on citizen action to secure water rights


  1. Despite promoting women’s participation in water governance, there was a key barrier preventing women’s voices from being heard and heeded.

In Mirpur Khas district, a person must be a landowner to be a member of the committees of the organised farmers’ representation groups. Given that it is almost exclusively men who are landowners, women are essentially excluded from the farmer groups decision-making processes. It is generally committee members who represent farmer groups in consultations and dialogue with local water authorities. Although there were deliberate strategies to ensure inclusion of women and increase their participation in the farmer groups, this did not generate an increase in women’s influence in decision-making.

  1. Adaptive programming is crucial in Citizen Monitoring and Advocacy processes

Given the above scenario, Trócaire worked with local partners  to explore alternatives. This was a good practice. However, the adapted strategies could not be tested due to the fact the programme had to close early. A key recommendation to address this challenge is to integrate strategies and resources to overcome barriers women face in accessing and influencing decision-making into programme design at the outset. In addition, be ready to adapt and trial new strategies during implementation if planned strategies are not working.

  1. Partnering with a government institution is different to partnering with a civil society organisation. It requires an adapted approach and building relationships are key

While it was deemed the most appropriate approach at the outset, partnering directly with a government institution using the same partnership model as with local civil society organisations created many challenges. It may be better to invest more in supporting local civil society to engage strategically with government institutions, or to adopt different ways of working when partnering with them.

Understanding the change process of policymaking is a key part of any Citizen Monitoring and Advocacy initiative.

Trócaire’s direct partnership with SIDA and the working paper on developing a provincial water policy ensured local civil society partners and farmers groups gained valuable insight into this process.

However, a key factor in influencing the process is through the relationships forged and the trust that is built with decision-makers and decision-influencers within the relevant institution.

Identifying and fostering allyship with champions within the institution who can lead and/or influence the policy-making process is recommended.

Read more about these lessons and recommendations here.

Download the Learning Brief

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