Towards characterizing the adaptive capacity of farmer-managed irrigation systems: learnings from Nepal

Published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, v. 21: 37-44

Thapa, B., C. A. Scott, P. Wester, and R. G. Varady.

Publication year 2016

International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Khumaltar, Lalitpur, Nepal
School of Geography and Development, The University of Arizona, United States
Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, The University of Arizona, United States
Water Resources Management Group, Dept. of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Netherlands

IAI Program


IAI Project CRN3056


The -seven dimensions of institutional adaptive capacity are identified.
Adaptation requires harnessing synergies and trade-offs between capacity dimensions.
Addressing interrelations among the capacity dimensions strengthens the institutions


Small-scale irrigation systems managed by farmers are facing multiple challenges including competing water demand, climatic variability and change, and socioeconomic transformation. Though the relevant institutions for irrigation management have developed coping and adaptation mechanisms, the intensity and frequency of the changes have weakened their institutional adaptive capacity. Using case examples mostly from Nepal, this paper studies the interconnections between seven key dimensions of adaptive capacity: the five capitals (human, financial, natural, social, and physical), governance, and learning. Long-term adaptation requires harnessing the synergies and tradeoffs between generic adaptive capacity that fosters broader development goals and specific adaptive capacity that strengthens climate-risk management. Measuring and addressing the interrelations among the seven adaptive-capacity dimensions aids in strengthening the long term sustainability of farmer-managed irrigation systems.