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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


Pangu: a method for distributing the work of maintaining and repairing small-scale irrigation systems


The pangu method was used in two projects in one village (launched during the same year) but was also found in many other villages where the research took place. In all cases, irrigation tanks were repaired during a period of drought, and are now being maintained on a routine basis (cleaning of bund: annually, cleaning of the canals: at the start of cultivation seasons; small repairs: ad hoc). The two projects in the village mentioned above (close to Medawachchiya) was sponsored by the Freedom from Hunger Campaign Board (FFHCB), and the other by the World Food Programme.

The pangu method is based on the traditional system for sharing the work for cleaning and maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure. It involves digging and/or desilting the reservoir, raising or strengthening the bund, clearing the bund of bushes and weeds, and cleaning out the canalsand small repairs of the canals in case those are damaged. According to this method, every paddy land owner (of land in the command area of a particular tank) is responsible for cleaning and repairing one section of the bund or canals, allocated to him or her. In case of desilting the tank (rehabilitation works), the tank bed will be divided in sections which are usually of such a size that work on them can be completed by one or two persons in one day, and after division, those sections are allocated to the participants in the rehabilitation works. Participants are paid for their work, either in money or in food, according to the number of sections they have completed. The chairman of the Farmers' Organization or the vel vidane administers the system, keeping an attendance list and making the payments. Technical officers of the local government agency involved (might be the Department of Agrarian Services or the Divisional Secretariat) pay a regular visit (with an interval of once a week, once every 2 weeks) for supervision of the works.

The rehabilitation of the projects mentioned above was completed in 1996. The annual maintenance is still going on.


Regions: Anuradhpura District 
Neighbourhood: Walpola (close to Medawachchiya)


  • The pangu method creates a sense of ownership and responsibility by involving farmers in both the planning and the implementation stages (as opposed to using contractors). 
  • It discourages people from trying to get "a free ride" since each person is clearly accountable for a specific share of the work. This is different from the more commonly used shramadana method, in which implementation is also done collectively but people are not responsible for a particular share. With shramadana, some families send their children as representatives (who are too young to deliver the same output as adults) or shirk the participation in shramadana.
  • Because the farmers do the work rather than hired contractors, this approach is cheaper and therefore more sustainable. It creates more feeling of 'ownership' and responsibility for maintenance. Furthermore, the farmers are accountable for the condition of their share (whether this is the tank bed, the bund or the canals).
  • During periods of drought, when cultivation is not possible, participation in the rehabilitation works (also using the pangu method) provides people with some income or food. 
  • Yields improve as the rehabilitation works improved the functioning of the physical infrastructure and regular maintenance is conducted.
  • the system is not undermined by the non participants, for - in case of rehabilitation works - participants are paid for their participation, where as non participants don't get food packages or money, and - in case of regular maintenance - non-paddy landowners are not forced anymore to participate in cleaning activities of tanks from which they cannot get any direct benefits in terms of food supply or income.

In case of the projects mentioned above, an international NGOs, a large donor agency (the WFP) and the Department of Agrarian Services were directly involved in the project. Farmers (both landowners and non landowners) were informed, and involved in the labour works of the rehabilitation. The system is not restricted to paddy land owners; people without land may take part through temporary membership. In other projects (depending on the funding agency) the Divisional Secretariat (AGA and technical officers) and local Samurdhi officers were involved. In those cases the participation was sometimes restricted (though not formally) to beneficiaries of the Samurdhi programme and landowners of paddyland in the command area of the tanks. 

The two projects in Walpola were initiated and are funded by the World Food Programme and the Freedom From Hunger Campaign Board. They were designed and formulated by the organizations' technical officer, by a local agent of the Agrarian Service Department, and by the Farmers' Organization responsible for coordinating the repair and maintenance activities.

Up to 100 people have taken part in each of the projects. 



  • The costs are low. 
  • The method creates a sense of responsibility and ownership and accountability.
  • Participants are provided with food and income. 
  • The circumstances under which the projects took place and the way they were implemented proved to be favorable for participation of women. Working hours were from 8 am until 1 or 2 pm, during a season when demand for female labourers is low and families are living mainly from the day labour of the men. This timing means an extra income or extra food, plus the possibility of combining paid work with domestic work and child care.
  • In all the projects which were implemented through the Department of Agrarian Services, only members of the Farmers' Organization and paddy owners were allowed to take part. It was foreseen that this restriction excluded the poorest families in the villages (families without any paddy land) and a possibility for temporary membership was created which enabled everyone to participate. The unintended but positive side-effect of this was a great increase in female participation. Women now account for 30-40 per cent of the members of the Farmer Organisation. Nonetheless, one should not overestimate this positive side-effect either, for temporary members do not have the same rights as permanent members. 
  • The final distribution of money or food is vulnerable to corruption. 
  • Work requiring equipment or concrete is allocated to contractors. This is also vulnerable to corruption as those in charge allocate the work to themselves or to friends (doing only part of the works they are supposed to) rather than to the contractors who can deliver the best quality. 
  • There is a chance that older people are excluded from participation. It is argued that they can work less. 
  • The practice is a successful adaptation of a traditional method. 
  • It is sustainable, functioning quite effectively for regular maintenance and for repair work. 
  • The practice is supported by farmers, the Farmer Organization, the Divisional Officer, and the staff of the projects. 

The practice can be replicated quite easily with minor adaptations. Several factors should be kept in mind, however: 

  • Landowners might resist the idea of allowing other members of the community to participate as well.
  • The office bearers of the Farmer Organization, or the local Samurdhi officers / committees are in the position to manipulate the system if they want to, e.g. by inviting only a particular group of people for the initial meetings during which the project activities are explained, and procedures for participation are explained, or by refusing participation by particular groups of people. 
  • The method is more effective if the work on the irrigation system takes place during periods of farming inactivity. Otherwise people have conflicting demands on their time and energy. 
  • The reward should be interesting enough. If it is too low people will choose to work elsewhere. 
In Sri Lanka the pangu method is practised widely in the Anuradhapura District. It is not yet clear how widespread the practice is elsewhere. 

The part of the project involving repairs occupied 1995 and 1996. The work of maintenance continues. 


Information on this practice came from Irna van der Molen, who conducted research on the subject in 1995 and 1996. E-mail: P.vandermolen@tdg.utwente.nl

Her promotor is: Prof. E.W. Hommes, and her direct supervisor is: Dr. N.G. Schulte Nordholt, both from the Technology and Development Group, Faculty of Technology and Management, University of Twente, P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, the Netherlands. Supervision is further provided by Dr. M. McCall, ITC, P.O. Box 6, 7500 AA, Enschede, the Netherlands, and by Dr. R. Ulluwishewa, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Brunei Darussalam, Bandar Seri Begawan 2028, Negara Brunei Darussalam.


  • Irna van der Molen (provider of this information) 

  • University of Twente - School of Management Studies - Technology and Development Group; P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands 
    E-mail: P.vandermolen@tdg.utwente.nl
  • List of local contacpersons:

  • For Padikaramaduwa:

    Agrarian Service Centre Yakalla 
    Mrs. Shaanthi Kumari Jayewardene 
    Yakalla, Megodawewa
    Sri Lanka
    (responsible also for Padikaramaduwa, in office since April 1998), 

    International Water Management Institute
    Mr. Ian Makin / Mr. Senaka Arachchi / Mr. Somaratne / Mr. Jinapale 
    P.O. Box 2075
    Sri Lanka
    telephone: 94-1-867404
    e-mail: iimi@cgnet.com
    (all were involved in SCOR project in Padikaramaduwa)

    For Nallamudawa:

    Mr. Anando Karunasiri
    Former Divisional Officer
    Agrarian Service Centre Eppawala
    Sri Lanka
    (transfered, but no information as where to)

    Mrs. Wasantha 
    Agrarian Service Centre Eppawala
    Sri Lanka
    (recently appointed)

    Mr. E.G. Semaratne
    Extension Officer
    Department of Agriculture
    Sri Lanka

    For Indigehawewa:

    Mr. Gunadase Wickramarachi
    Divisional Officer
    Agrarian Service Centre Ipolagama
    Sri Lanka
    telephone (at bank close to office): 94-25-64279

    For Wellamudawa and Punchikuluma:

    Mr. Sarath Perera
    Divisional Officer
    Agrarian Service Centre Thirappanee
    Sri Lanka

    For Walpola and Kulikkada:

    Mr. Premaratne Abeysinghe 
    Divisional Officer
    Agrarian Service Centre Medawachchiya
    Sri Lanka
    telephone (res.): 94-25-66689

    Mr. Anuradha Amaratunghe
    Government Agent Medawachchiya
    AGA's Office (Divisional Secretariat)
    Sri Lanka

    For the projects of FFHCB:

    Mr. Kalam
    Technical Assistant 
    Sri Lanka national programme of the Freedom From Hunger Campaign Board
    Harischandra Mawatha
    telephone: 94-25-35303
    (technical assistant at time of the project implementation: Mr. Gamini)

    Mr. Sirisene
    Freedom from Hunger Campaign Board
    Harischandra Mawatha

    Mr. Bowange
    Chairman Freedom from Hunger Campaign Board
    17 Malaksekera Mawatha
    Colombo 7
    telephone: 94-1-589384

    For information about the WFP:

    Mr. Weerakkody or: Mr. Mahir
    Technical Officer
    Regional Department of Agrarian Services
    Godage Mawatha
    Sri Lanka
    Telephone: 94-25-22422

    For information about projects by the Irrigation Department:

    Mr. Thilikaratne
    Irrigation Engineer
    Deputy Director's Office
    Airport Road
    Sri Lanka
    telephone: 94-25-22587

    Mr. M.A.G.S. Wijayawardhana
    Irrigation Engineer
    Irrigation Engineer's Office
    Airport Road
    Sri Lanka
    telephone: 94-25-22587 / 94-25-22499

    Mr. Jayaratne
    Planning Officer
    Irrigation Engineer's Office
    Airport Road
    Sri Lanka

    Mr. Senewiratne
    Irrigation Engineer
    Provincial Irrigation Department
    Sri Lanka
    telephone: 94-25-64285


Primary organization: 

Agrarian Service District Office, Godage Mawatha 
World Food Programme 
Sri Lanka 
Telephone: +94-25-22422 
Fax: +94-25-22812 

Cooperating organizations: 

Freedom From Hunger Campaign Board 
Sri Lanka 
Telephone: +94-25-35303 

Agrarian Service Department 
Divisional Office 
Sri Lanka 

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