Attitude and Participation of Farmers under Water Users' Associations in...
Attitude and Participation of Farmers under
Water Users' Associations in Kerala
K. MADHAVA CHANDRAN, K.M. VARADAN AND T. VALSAN
A study was conducted to quantify the relationship between attitude of farmers
and their participation in the activities of Water Users' Associations under the
Command Area Development Authority (CADA) in Kerala. There is a significant
relationship between the two. The participatory activities have been explained
through relevant social theories applicable to irrigation management. Lack of ac-
tivities like provision of farm channels, rotational water supply, consolidation of
landholdings and group farming, were found to be the reasons for low farmer par-
ticipation. Based on the study, factors relevant for Participatory Irrigation Man-
agement (PIM) for decentralised irrigation have been identified.
Dr. K. Madhava Chandran is Scientist (Grade C), Dr. K.M. Varadan is Scientist
(Grade F) and Head, WM (Agricultural) Division, and Mr. T. Valsan is Technical
Officer, Centre for Water Resources Development and Management, Kozhikode.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
C o m m a n d Area Development Authorities (CADA) have been estab-
lished in different states in the country with the main objective of im-
proving on-farm water management in terms of adequacy,
equitability and timeliness for the farming community under irriga-
tion projects. In Kerala, the C A D A programme is being implemented
under 14 irrigation projects. The activities of C A D A have been
planned to be carried out by the farmers' participation through Water
Users' Associations (WUAs), registered under different outlets in the
The activities envisaged for W U A s include:
• improvements in on farm water management;
• adoption of improved agricultural practices;
• arranging transportation and marketing facilities;
• distribution of subsidies; and
• organising training for farmers.
14 K. Madhava Chandran, KM. Varadan and T. Valsan
Therefore, farmers' participation through the WUAs was
conceived as the backbone of the CAD A programmes (CAD A, 1997).
However, several studies have shown that many of these associations
are non-functional or inactive after their initial formation. The
requirement of a favourable attitude on the part of farmers towards
effective participation was reported by Sherif and Centril (1945). The
role and tasks of WUAs should refer to the degrees of cooperative
attitudes among water users themselves (Kalshoven, 1989). Many
studies have also reported farmers' favourable attitude and their
participation for success in various activities related to agricultural
development (Dasgupta, 1966; Dasgupta, 1968; Kaufman, Singh and
Dasgupta, 1975; Singh, 1973).
Singh (1992) was of the opinion that attitudes and values of people
are some of the factors that affect people's participation. People's
participation, in a broader sense, means their total involvement with
development agencies, in deciding programmes and activities, fixing
up of priorities, taking initiative and carrying out the projects as
partners by the contribution of ideas, interest, material, money, labour
and time (Setty, 1985).
The present study was taken up to assess the attitude of farmers to-
wards participation and also their level of participation through
WUAs established under CADA and to quantify the relationship, if
any, between them.
The location of study was the command (irrigated) area of
Malampuzha Irrigation Project (MIP) in Palakkad District of the
state of Kerala. The total command area under this project is
20,500 hectares and irrigation water is supplied to farmers for the
second crop (mundakan
season) of paddy during the dry period
(October-December). This project is covered under the CADA
programme. The number of WUAs reported to be registered under
CADA in this project is 444 (CADA, 1997). The 43 WUAs, which
had renewed their registration during the period of study, were taken
as samples for the present work. The physical location and the number
of WUAs on the canal network taken up for the study were
17 at head, middle and tail reaches, respectively.
Attitude and Participation of Formers...
Within the 43 WUAs taken up, 400 farmers were selected through
stratified random sampling based on the official definition of
Landholding size of farmers as reported by Jayaraman (1982). The
strata defined were as follows:
• marginal farmers: less than one hectare,
• small farmers: 1-2 hectares, and
• big farmers: more than two hectares
The sample was distributed among the above three categories of
landholding size through proportional allocation (35 per cent of the
total) as follows: marginal farmers — 160; small farmers — 140; and
big farmers— 100. The distribution of the sample of farmers based
on physical location and reach of WUAs on the canal were as follows:
head reach WUAs— 130; middle reach WUAs — 120; and tail reach
W U A s — 1 5 0 .
The study was carried out among the individual farmers of the
sample through questionnaire survey, incorporating the two variables
of the study, namely attitude towards participation through WUAs
and farmer participation index. -
ATTITUDE TOWARDS PARTICIPATION THROUGH WUAs
For studying the attitude, a scale was developed based on the method-
ology (Anantharaman, 1991) as detailed below.
Collection of Items (Statements)
Seventy items, expressing some
opinion related to WUAs under CAD A,
were collected from review of literature and discussion with officials and
experts working in this field. These items were then classified under the
following heads as adopted by Jayaraman (1982), in his study of attitude
of farmers towards irrigators' organisations in Gujarat.
1. Necessary and favourable conditions for functioning of WUA.
2. Type of WUA.
3. Selection of office bearers of WUA
4. Functions of WUA.
5. Advantages of WUA.
Relevancy Rating of Items
The 70 items arranged under the above five heads along with their
responses under a five-point continuum — 'most relevant', 'more
16 K. Madhava Chandran, K.M. Varadan and T. Valsan
relevant', 'relevant', 'less relevant', 'least relevant' —were prepared
and given to 30 judges (experts in the fields of Sociology, Irrigation
Engineering and Agronomy). These experts were asked to do the
rating of relevance of each item in measuring the attitude of farmers
on the five point continuum mentioned above. It was also ensured
that these judges were not the same persons, who had been contacted
earlier for the collection of statements to be included for development
of the scale. Out of the 25 responses received, 23 had rated all the
items and these were considered in the selection.
Selection of Items
Weightages were given for the relevancy rating of the responses,
namely, most relevant, more relevant, relevant, less relevant and least
relevant as five, four, three, two and one respectively. For inclusion of
items in the scale, the following criteria were considered.
Mean Relevancy Score (MRS)
The MRS of each item was found out by summing up the weightages
obtained for the item (based on judges' response) and then dividing by
the number of judges.
Coefficient of Variation (cv)
The coefficient of variation of each item was worked out using the
following standard formula.
The average MRS and cv were found out by dividing the calculated
MRS and cv with the number of items included in the judges' rating.
Those items having more than average MRS, and less than the aver-
age cv, were selected for inclusion in the attitude scale. The former
criterion showed higher level of relevancy for an item, while the latter
indicated a higher degree of agreement among the judges on the rele-
vancy of an item. Accordingly, 41 items (statements) were selected
under the five heads mentioned earlier for inclusion in the attitude
Reliability of the Scale
Reliability of the scale was determined by the test-retest method as
shown below. A sample of 50 farmer members of WUAs under
CADA in Malampuzha irrigation project were randomly selected.
Attitude and Participation of Farmers...
The attitude scale was administered to this sample twice, at 15 days
interval. The two sets of attitude scores, thus obtained from the same
respondents, were correlated. The correlation coefficient (r) was 0.82,
indicating the reliability of the scale for measuring the attitude of
Content Validity of the Scale
Content validity relates to how well the contents of the scale represent
the subject matter under study. Since all possible items covering the
universe of contents regarding WUAs were selected from review of
relevant literature, as well as from experts and officials working in
this field, the scale can be considered as satisfying content validity.
The attitude scale consisted of 41 items arranged under the five
heads mentioned earlier. The scoring for the responses, to each item
(statement) namely, 'Agree', 'Neutral', 'Disagree' were three, two,
and one respectively. The range of total score in the scale was 4 1 -
123. This scale was administered through the questionnaire among
the sample of 400 farmers and their total attitude score was quantified,
based on their responses to each statement.
Singh (1992), had suggested that people's participation could be
measured using a ratio scale having zero at its minimum, to indicate
'no participation' and an arbitrary maximum of 100, indicating
'maximum possible participation'. Such a scale could be con-
structed by asking a sample of target beneficiaries of the concerned
programme a set of questions related to participation and then as-
signing a score ranging from zero (no participation) to one (full par-
For the above measurement, Singh (1992) had suggested a list of
questions that could be included in the scale, to elicit information nec-
essary for working out the People's Participation Index (PPI). For the
present study, a set of 16 relevant questions were framed for inclusion
in the scale to measure farmers' participation, taking into consider-
ation the objectives and functions of WUA under CADA (Kerala,
1991). The scoring for all responses to these questions were one and
zero, for 'Yes' and 'No' respectively, and one, zero point five (0.5)
and zero respectively for the responses 'Always', 'Sometimes' and
'Never'. Details of the questions in the participation scale adopted are
given in Table 1.
18 K. Madhava Chandran, KM. Varadan and T. Valsan
TABLE 1: Participatory Activities Undertaken by Farmers under WUAs
Participating Farmers *
1. Planning on-farm development works undertaken through WUAs
2. Attending meetings of
3. Discussing problems on irrigated rice farming with CADA officials
4. Discussing the above with fellow farmers
5. Discussing one's knowledge and experience on irrigation
water management with fellow farmers
6. Discussing the above with officials
7. Attending training organised by
8. Contributing money for constructions such as field,
farm drainage channels and farm road
9. Contributing labour for the above
10. Contributing money for maintenance of the above structures
11. Contributing labour for maintenance of the above, structures
12. Consolidation of fragmented
13. Adopting suitable cropping pattern under the
14. Implementing group farming approach through the
15. Conflict resolution between members through
16. Adopted rotational water supply
: * rounded off to nearest decimal or 0.5.
The total score from all the statements, gives the participation
score of the individual. From the information gathered by
administering the participation scale to the sample of 400 farmers, the
Farmers' Participation Index (FPI) was worked out for WUAs using
the following formula recommended by Singh (1992).
Where FPI = Farmers' Participation Index of WUAs
n = number of farmers
Pi = participation score of ith farmer defined as,
where WiJ is the weight assigned to the jth question (asked to the ith
fanner) showing it's relative importance as a measure of participation,
with the condition that the sum of weights from all questions is equal
to 100. Xj is the score obtained for the response to the jth question.
The range of FPI was from zero to 100. The classification of peo-
ples' participation by Singh (1992), as shown below, was adopted in
Attitude and Participation of Farmers...
Very low participation 0 - 2 5
Llow participation 2 6 - 5 0
Moderate participation 5 1 - 7 5
High participation More than 75
The participation scale was also administered, through the
questionnaire, to the sample of 400 farmers and data on farmers'
participation collected for working out the FPI of WUAs.
Statistical analysis of data was carried out through chi-square tests
to find out the influence of the physical location of WUAs on the ca-
nal network and landholding size of farmers on their participation.
Similarly, correlation was worked out between the attitude score of
farmers and their participation score. In addition to this, interpreta-
tion of data based on frequencies (percentages) has also been carried
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
The number of farmers (expressed as percentage of total) undertaking
different participatory activities through WUAs of CAD A is given in
Table 1. Based on field level observations, it has been understood that
the major activity undertaken by the CADA for the WUAs was con-
struction of concrete field channels upto 20 per cent of the length of
the command area, below the outlets located on the branch canals and
distributaries of the irrigation project.
Table 1 also indicates that none of the farmers or WUAs were in-
volved by CADA in planning this on-farm development work, which
is necessary for achieving the main objective behind the formation of
WUAs, namely improvement in efficiency of water use and on-farm
water management by farmers. A top-down administrative approach,
which its termed as 'external actors' (Ambler, 1994), had been
adopted by CADA in the activities of WUAs. This approach of
CADA in not involving local WUAs can be explained by the rational
choice approach (Ostrom, 1974), which describes, among other
things, the tendency of large public bureaucracy (in this
study, CADA) towards aggregate uni-dimensional decision-making
rather than multiple, diverse, local decision-making. The interests of
the few are sacrificed to the state definition of the collective good. The
large bureaucracy is neither cost, nor decision accountable to its cli-
ents. This approach can be considered as a serious drawback for the
participatory programme envisaged under CADA.
20 K. Madhava Chandran, K.M. Varadan and T. Valsan
Only in six out of the 16 participatory activities envisaged under
CADA, more than 50 per cent of farmers are involved. Out of this,
more than 80 per cent farmers undertake activities such as attending
WUA meetings and discussing their knowledge, experiences and
problems related to irrigation management with their fellow
Fifty-seven to sixty-three per cent farmers are found to contribute
money and labour for maintenance of concrete field channels, con-
structed by CADA. This indicates the importance assigned by farm-
ers in ensuring availability of water for irrigation. According to
CADA norms, management subsidy at the rate of Rs. 4,000/-, Rs.
3,000/- and Rs. 3,000/- respectively is provided to the WUAs for the
initial three years, after their formation. Farmers are intended to
make use of this money, along with their contributions, for yearly
maintenance work of the field channels. In the present study, the av-
erage membership of each WUA was found to be in the range of
50-75 farmers only. This may be considered as a small group. The
interest shown by the small group of farmers of WUAs for involving
themselves in the maintenance of field channels can be attributed to
the rational, self-interested individual's actions, which are notice-
able to the other individuals in the small group (Olson, 1971). Under
the above circumstances, the concept of 'free riding' by individuals,
which is normally seen in the case of a large group, may not be appli-
Activities such as resolution of conflicts between farmers, discus-
sions related to irrigation, water management among farmers, as well
as attending meetings undertaken by a good majority of farmers may
be considered as a sign of the level of cooperation and trust existing
among the farmers of WUAs.
Lusk and Parlin (1990), were of the opinion that individual choice
is the basis of collective action and social organisation. Individual de-
cisions are the expression of different preferences and incentives.
Therefore, conflict is inherent in social life and the organisation is the
means of managing that conflict. This explains the participatory ac-
tivity of conflict resolution undertaken by farmers through the
The cooperative attitude of the WUA members can be explained
by the theory of collective action propounded by Buchanan and
Tullock (1965). According to them, individuals perceive collective
action to be profitable, when the costs are less than the perceived
Attitude and Participation of Farmers...
benefits. The perceived costs include decision-making costs, which is
an increasing function of the number of individuals required to reach
an agreement. In the present study, the smaller size of the group of
farmers under WUAs would mean that the decision-making costs will
not be very high. This may be the reason that can be attributed to farm-
ers attending meetings, as well as discussing with fellow farmers,
which, as already mentioned earlier, can be considered as processes
related to decision-making by farmers.
With regard to other participatory activities namely,
1. Discussing one's knowledge, experience and problems related
to irrigation management with CADA officials, it is seen that
only about 33 per cent farmers are involved (Table 1). The
table also shows that only 17 per cent of farmers have attended
training programmes of CADA. It has been understood from
discussions carried out with both farmers, as well as officials
of CADA, that the latter has not been able to maintain
sufficient contact with the WUAs, nor conduct enough
training programmes. The CADA officials attribute this to the
lack of sufficient humanpower.
2. None of the WUAs have undertaken activities, such as,
consolidation of fragmented landholdings, adopting a suitable
cropping pattern and group farming, which are all essential for
scientific use of water and higher crop yield.
3. Rotational Water Supply (RWS) at the farm level is necessary
for maintaining the required depth of irrigation water and also
for ensuring equity of water distribution among farmers. This
is seen only in the case of 5 per cent of farmers who are
members of two WUAs. They have constructed farm channels
in continuation of CADA field channels. These WUAs have
reported that they appoint a 'common irrigator' paid by the
WUA, who distributes a pre-determined depth of irrigation
water to different fields on a 'turn' basis. They were also of the
opinion that, this has actually helped in better use of water,
avoiding unwanted losses and also helps in achieving a
reasonable level of crop yield.
From the above discussions, it is evident that majority of the farmers
or WUAs have not come forward to implement improved methods of
cultivation, including proper water management. Lupanga (1988)
derived a hypothesis to explain lack of people's participation in devel-
opment activities. According to the hypothesis, majority of rural people
22 K. Madhava Chandran, K M. Varadan and T. Valsan
have heavy load (defined as the self and social demands by a person to
maintain a minimum level of autonomy) and little power (described as
resources such as abilities, possessions and position, which a person
can command in coping with the load), to cope therewith and, hence,
they are too preoccupied with mere survival than to participate in the
development activities. The above hypothesis holds good in the case of
paddy farmers in Kerala, where the productivity of the crop is low, such
that paddy cultivation is not profitable, particularly with the high labour
cost prevalent in the state. Most of the farmers cultivate paddy mainly
for household consumption. Hence, as mentioned in the hypothesis,
their resource base is poor and they are more interested in survival than
to participate actively. This may be the reason for their
non-entrepreneurship regarding adoption of improved methods of
cultivation under the CADA programme.
Further, social scientists have noted that the apparently conserva-
tive and risk aversive behaviour of farmers is actually a rational re-
sponse to the fragile economics of peasant society (Lusk and Parlin,
1990). Another reason which can be attributed to the
non-implementation of collective group level activities, such as land
consolidation, adoption of a commonly suitable cropping pattern,
group farming and even RWS among farmers in the study area, is that
collective actions (like the ones stated above) tend to limit individual
liberty and, hence, people choose to avoid them where possible (Lusk
and Riley, 1986).
Farmer Participation Index (FPI) of WUAs
The mean FPI of WUAs under head, middle and tail reaches of the ca-
nal network in the present study worked out to be 30.9, 31.5 and 31.9
respectively. This shows that farmer participation is low (Singh,
1992) and does not vary between the different reaches of canals.
To determine the statistical significance of empirical relationship
between physical location (reach) of WUAs on canal and Farmer
Participation (FP) score, chi-square test was carried out. The results
are presented in Table 2.
Usually, under irrigation projects, water will be scarce at the tail
reaches of canals, as compared to middle and head reaches. However,
in the study area, WUAs at all the reaches reported that they were
getting enough water. This can' be the reason attributed to the
non-significance of chi-square test based on the physical location of
WUAs (Table 2). Similarly, the low level of participation observed
Attitude and Participation of Farmers...
under all the reaches can be again attributed to the sufficiency of
irrigation water, which confirms the theoretical proposition of
Uphoff, Wickramasinghe and Wijayaratna (1990). Their theory states
that farmers' net benefits from participation in water management are
likely to be the greatest over a 'middle range' of water availability.
Accordingly, participation is expected to be low, both under absolute
water scarcity, as well as under sufficient water supply. In the present
study, the latter holds good as explained earlier.
TABLE 2: Impact of Differences in Physical Location of WUAs on Farmer
Head/Middle/Tail : df:4
Chi-square value : 0.509 (non-significant)
* in percentages rounded off to first decimal.
The analysis of participation versus landholdings size of farmers,
show that the chi-square value is significant (Table 3). It can be seen
from Table 3, that there is considerable variation in the percentage
of farmers falling within each range of FP scores in the case of
marginal farmers, as compared to small and big farmers. This may
be the reason for the significance of chi-square test. Therefore, it
may be inferred that the landholding size of farmers influences their
participation. It was also observed from the study, that mean
participation score of big farmers was comparatively higher than the
other two classes. Also, under many of the WUAs, office bearers
were mostly big farmers, who can naturally be expected to be more
involved in the activities of the WUA.
Attitude of Farmers towards Participation through WUAs
Table 4 shows the distribution of farmers in different range of attitude
scores. It may be inferred that, practically, all the farmers have score
above 100, indicating a high level of attitude on the part of farmers to-
24 K. Madhava Chandran, K.M. Varadan and T. Valsan
TABLE 3: Impact of Differences in Landholding Size on Farmer Participation
Marginal/Small/Big : df:4
Chi-square value : 24.763 (Significant at 0.01 level)
* in percentages rounded off to first decimal.
TABLE 4: Distribution of Farmers in Different Ranges of Attitude Score.
: * in percentages rounded off to the first decimal.
Since the final outcome or result of farmers' participation can be
analysed based on the advantages realised by them through WUAs,
an analysis of attitude responses regarding the advantages of
WUAs was undertaken. The details are presented in Table 5. The
advantages on which a higher proportion of farmers have agreed
relates to conflict resolution, development of a sense of 'we' feel-
ing through the WUAs and minimising unwanted water loss. As al-
ready reported earlier, majority of farmers have reported
participatory activities such as conflict resolution, attending meet-
ings and discussing their knowledge, experiences and problems re-
lated to irrigation management with their fellow farmers, which
has been interpreted as a sign of their cooperation. Water loss has
been minimised only in those areas adjoining concrete field chan-
nels constructed by CADA.
It is interesting to note that a higher proportion of farmers disagree
with the following statements related to advantages of WUAs.
Attitude and Participation of Farmers...
TABLE 5: Attitude of Farmers towards Advantages of WUAs
*Percentages rounded off to 0.5 or nearest decimal.
Availability of Seeds and Fertilisers at a Lower Cost
Adoption of group farming practices would have enabled the
WUAs to avail agricultural inputs at a lower cost when com-
pared to individual-oriented cultivation, since a provision for
this exists under group farming. Further, during discussions, it
was understood that farmers are individually able to receive
subsidies on agricultural inputs through the farmers' associa-
tions established by the Agriculture Department, while the same
farmer who is member of CADA/WUA can avail this only
through the WUA.
Ensuring Water for Tail end Farmers
As already reported earlier, on-farm development works, undertaken
by CAD A, is restricted to concrete field channels upto a maximum
length of 20 per cent in the command area. Since most of the farmers
have not come forward to construct either earthen or concrete farm
channels, after these field channels, the water distribution among
fanners is mainly through the field to field method, which results in
excess water usage by farmers in the upper reaches. This can be the
reason attributed for non-availability of water to the tail enders. Also,
the high level of water depth maintained by farmers under field to
field irrigation will contribute to water losses through deep percola-
tion and seepage.
26 K. Madhava Chandran, KM. Varadan and T. Valsan
Increase in Profit from Rice Cultivation
Activities such as adoption of group farming, suitable cropping pat-
tern and RWS by the WUAs, would have been helpful in improving
crop productivity as well as reducing cost of cultivation, thereby im-
proving the level of profitability. However, these activities have not
been taken up by most of the WUAs. It was also understood from dis-
cussions with farmers that the average yield of rice in their areas works
out to be about 3000 kg/ha only, when compared to a possible yield po-
tential of 5000 kg/ha for high yielding varieties of rice (Centre for Wa-
ter Resources Development and Management [CWRDM], 1994).
Thus, group farming activity to reduce the cost of cultivation and
better water management practices to improve yield have not been ac-
cepted as measures for increasing profitability of irrigated rice in the
study area, though there is scope to do so.
Simple correlation was worked out between attitude scores and par-
ticipation scores of farmers. The correlation coefficient (r) was found
to be 0.31 and it is statistically significant. This establishes the influ-
ence of attitude of farmers towards WUAs and their participation.
However, the low 'r' value may be attributed to the low participation
scores of farmers when compared to their high attitude scores. From
this, it may be inferred that even though farmers possess a high level
of attitude, due to the lack of suitable programmes such as land con-
solidation and group farming, as well as the required infrastructure,
such as farm channels for carrying out improved water management
such as RWS among farmers, the WUAs have not been able to imple-
ment many of the activities envisaged under CADA programme. It
may also be noted that most of the farmers expressed the opinion that
they were not aware of their rights and responsibilities, as well as
about the schemes of CADA meant for WUAs. In short, a condition
exists wherein farmers are unable to translate their attitude into action
through relevant participation under the WUAs.
The present study clearly indicates the extent of participatory ac-
tivities of farmers in WUAs and the influence of their attitude to-
wards certain areas of activity such as group farming, better water
management practices and higher level of productivity. Unless suit-
able schemes such as provision of proper infrastructure (farm chan-
nels), RWS, land consolidation and group farming which will all
Attitude and Participation of Farmers...
help to improve productivity of irrigated rice are taken up, the for-
mation and purpose of WUA may not lead to the desired goals.
These factors need to be considered in any future Participatory Irri-
gation Management (PIM) programmes being envisaged in order
to help restore higher responsibility of farmers and productivity of
irrigated rice in Kerala. The PIM is a programme being envisaged
under irrigation projects in Kerala, involving decentralisation
through transfer of operation and maintenance (O&M)
responsibilities of minors and distributories to a group of WUAs,
with the Irrigation Department maintaining the O&M of main canals
and reservoirs. Under this approach, the government and farmers are
expected to work as partners with decision-making and investment
shared between them.
A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T
We are grateful to Dr. P. Basak, Executive Director, Centre for Water Resources
Development and Management, Kozhikode, for all the encouragement given for
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volume 62, Issue 1, January 2001