Based on our extensive fieldwork and initial piloting in 20 villages, we propose an RCT where we take the costs of participation seriously. In particular, we vary (a) whether farmers in the ayacut choose the location of the channel and, once its location has been decided, (b) the extent of local control over the construction of the channel.
The experimental protocol involves the following steps. First, we obtain necessary permissions for the study from the village representative, the village official in-charge of revenue and water management (Village Revenue Assistant or the VRA), and other key members of the farmer community, who are typically involved in village irrigation management. In this stage, we sketch out a schematic map of the tank and ayacut and identify plausible locations for different field channels connecting the mouth of the tank to different locations downstream in the ayacut.
Next, we conduct a detailed baseline survey of farms/plots within the ayacut by interviewing the landowner. This survey includes basic demographic background details of the farmer, plot level characteristics such as soil type, whether there is a functioning well, main irrigation sources, quantity of water available for irrigation by season, value per acre, and agricultural investment and yield. We also ask about water conflicts with other farmers in the ayacut and elicit the farmers’ valuation of the different locations for the construction of a field channel identified in Step 1, using an incentive compatible elicitation method.
In the third step, we announce whether the choice of field channel to be constructed is “bottom-up”, that is, made by every farmer with a plot in the ayacut via a secret ballot process (one farmer one vote) or whether it is made “top-down” by a third party (researchers/NGO/centralized agency) without any community involvement. During the pilot the elicitation method worked because the field channel selected using the secret ballot always coincided with the highest valuation channel. As a result, in top-down villages we also plan to select the channel with the highest valuation in the baseline elicitation exercise to make the location of field channels comparable in both groups of villages.
In the fourth and final step, we vary whether the field channel selected is constructed by the community (“bottom-up” approach) or by a local contractor or NGO directly hired by us (“top-down” approach). In the bottom up approach, the funds are given to the VRA and since farmers have full control of the construction, they may decide to extend the length of the channel, add additional feeder channels, or make other modifications as they deem fit. In contrast, funds are given directly to the local contractor or NGO under the top-down approach.