The struggle of village tank farmers in the dry zone of Sri Lanka against rising scarcity of water and land resources strongly highlights the interdependence of local resources under diverse regimes of governance. The significant population in the dry zone that lives under the village tank systems represents one of the most vulnerable community groups in the country.

This study attempted to identify technical, institutional, and policy solutions that could provide sustainable answers to the problems faced by the village tank farming community. Physical scarcity is only one aspect of the problem because scarcity is closely influenced by more contentious issues of institutional limitations.

The research was conducted in the Anuradhpaura district of the North Central Province in Sri Lanka. The research design included participatory methods of focus group discussions (FGD) and key informant interviews (KII) to gather primary data. Secondary data were collected from various sources, especially from past researches on village tank systems.

Findings revealed that temporal scarcity of water and associated problems of managing local resources have been the major challenges that have shaped the evolution of local farming systems and water management strategies. The traditional system evolved to overcome this challenge through the development of a set of social customs and local institutions. These customs and institutions had governed the use of lowland as well as upland resources until recently.

However, recent changes such as population growth, government policies, commercialization of local economies, and modernization of agriculture technology have gradually eroded the traditional system. These changes have favored a privately-oriented and resource-intensive commercial farming system. Such changes have contributed to the collapse of control exerted by traditional system of social customs and local institutions over local resources, especially over the upland component of the farming system. This collapse has led to major environmental problems affecting land and water resources in the village tank systems. Hence, what is needed is a holistic approach of integrated resource management that includes technical, institutional, and policy interventions applied over interdependent systems of local resources. However, the implementation of an integrated management practices has to be facilitated by a modified system of local institutional arrangements and appropriate policy interventions designed to create an enabling environment.

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Commons vs. Commons: Managing Scarce Water Resources in Dry Zone Village Tank Systems in Sri Lanka