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Chapter 4: Assessing the implications of past and ongoing experience

A framework for analysis
Identifying local circumstances favourable to common property management
Economic pressures and opportunities
Vulnerability to conflict and the regulatory framework
The presence of the state

A framework for analysis

To recapitulate, common pool resource use occurs on lands under various customary and formal tenure arrangements. Thus, communal management may be based on CPRs or be vested in communal institutions with rights to use private or state property. There may be multiple use, for different products or by different groups, at different times of the year. In practice, resources are often held in overlapping combinations of private, state, common pool resource management and open access regimes (see Box 9). Common property management systems for such resources therefore usually need to be based on recognition that the system needs to accommodate the concerns of more than one participating interest group (Campbell, 1990).

Given such diversity and variation from situation to situation and over time, there can be no universal models. As Ostrom (1994) has stated: "any single, comprehensive set of formal laws intended to govern a large expanse of territory and diverse ecological niches is bound to fail in many of the habitats where it is supposed to be applied." What is important is to achieve a correct match between institutions and their physical, biological and cultural environments. This needs to be stressed, because some of the main initiatives in support of collective management of forests have attempted to apply uniform solutions to many different situations, with poor results. It has been argued, for instance, that this was one of the main reasons why the Social Forestry woodlot programme in India failed to become locally managed (Arnold and Stewart, 1991). Similar concerns have been expressed about its successor, the Joint Forest Management programme: "The proponents of JFM often appear blind to the social, ecological and political diversity of the nation, and apply the model irrespective of the location (although the consequences of the application are highly diverse)" (Hobley, 1996a).

Box 9: Patterns of Tenure and Rights in India

In India... all tenure is joint. More specifically, all land[s] -but especially forest, grazing, and fallow lands - have overlapping rights. These overlapping rights are both de jure and de facto, and are made particularly complicated by the frequent overlap of both kinds of rights. While there are often predominant assignments of these rights, or principal 'owners', these often refer to particular products or usage rights which may overlap on the same piece of land. Thus, tenure or property rights on the same tract of land also differs by product or usage. It is not surprising therefore that large areas of land in India have ambiguous ownership whereby the explicit (i.e. registered) owner of forest and pasture land has a number of more or less implicit joint owners.

... tenurial rights are defined not only by nominal ownership (registration in the land records) but by their products and use. As their usage changes, their predominant users may change, and even their nominal owners may change. Tenure is not a static characteristic of land: it is created, challenged or modified, and recreated. Tenure is a dynamic changing process with a number of societal actors and ultimately dependent on society for its acceptance. In this sense, all owners are tenants of society. Decision-making over various bundles of property rights are circum[scrib]ed by societal laws and regulations to varying degrees. Mutual expectations, shared normative ideals, and the degree of infraction and enforcement depends on society's enforcement of property right claims.

... The inescapable conclusion [is] that, to varying degrees, all land in India is in part common property. It is also partly State property, and it almost all has some private property rights. To address the common property problem in India, we must address the rights, obligations, and intentions of each of its joint-tenants. Obviously the most problematic lands are those which are registered under some kind of common ownership... as they have the most overlapping rights and suffer the greatest ambiguity.

Source: Campbell, 1990

Analysis therefore needs to be pursued within a framework that recognizes this diversity. It has been suggested that the main elements that should be addressed in any exercise for analysing and designing a common property regime for the management of local forests are:

· sources of incentives for individual behaviour;

· choices of strategies by individuals and resulting interactions among individuals and groups; and

· outcomes, in terms of forest resource and output sustainability, equity and efficiency of resource governance and management operations, etc. (Thomson and Freudenberger, 1997).

Common property management, or the lack of it, can usually be explained by interactions within this framework.

During the past decade, considerable progress has been made with the design of analytical models that help us understand what factors and interactions determine the circumstances under which common property management is likely to be appropriate and successful, and under which it is not (Bromley and Cernea, 1989; NAS, 1986; Oakerson, 1986; Ostrom, 1990; Wade, 1988). Key features that have emerged from these analytical models are summarized in Box 10. Common components among them include the following.

Components of the resource include:

· the size and boundary conditions of the resource;

· the ease with which it can be used by several or many users (subtractability), the ease with which those who are not members of the user group can be excluded (excludability), and its appropriateness for management communally rather than by individuals (indivisibility);

· the role of technology in its management and use, and the cost of alternative technologies; and

· the availability, structure and stability of markets for its outputs.

Components of decision-making arrangements include:

· mechanisms for collective and constitutional choice (i.e. procedures to set and change operational rules);

· operational rules (e.g. who has access, what actions must or may be taken or not taken, what information must be exchanged, what are the limits on user behaviour, what are the ways and means to obtain compliance, what are the jurisdictional boundaries); and

· roles of external legislation and regulations, and of enforcement and support bodies.

Components of operational features include:

· number of users and their legal positions;
· dependence of users on the resource;
· patterns of reciprocity and non-reciprocity;
· degree of homogeneity in assets, information, skills, cultures, values and payoffs; and
· efficiency and equity outcomes.

Box 10: Factors Identified by Selected Authors as Affecting Local Organizations for Natural Resource Management

Ostrom (1990, 1992)

Wade (1998)

Oakerson (1986)

Bromley & Cernea (1989)

Physical & technical characteristics of the resource system

· Structure:
Clarity of boundaries

Boundedness of resource

Capacity of the resource

Nature of the resource

· Flow patterns:
Predictability in time, across space & in quantity
· Condition of the resource


Excludability of the resource

Subtractability / jointness

· For withdrawing resources
· For exclusion

Cost of exclusion technology

- physical boundaries

Characteristics of the group of users

Number of members Time horizon

Size of user group/number of members

Characteristics of the user of the resource

Proximity to resource & between users

Boundaries of the group

Extent of interaction
- individualized or collective action

Location of resource & residence of users

Skills & assets of leaders

Users' knowledge

Homogeneity vs heterogeneity of interests

Users' demand

Power structure

Norms of behaviour/culture

Mutual obligations


Institutional arrangements

Design principles
· Member & access rules
· Resource boundary rules
· Appropriation (withdrawing) & provision rules
· Collective choice arrangements
· Monitoring & sanctioning rules
· Recognition of rights to organize by external agents
· "Nested enterprises" -multiple layers of nested enterprises

Existing arrangements for discussion of resource problems
Punishment rules

Relationship between users & state
- external rules & intervention

Decision-making arrangements:
· Operational rules
· Collective choice rules
· External arrangements

Characteristics of the decision-making process
· Type of resource regime - property rights
· Legal, political environment

Market conditions for the resource


Noticeability: ease of detection of rule-breaking free riders

Ecological stress: supply & demand conditions

Source: adapted from Rasmussen and Meinzen-Dick, 1995

In the rest of this chapter, we draw on this framework to examine what lessons have been learned about management of forests as common property, using the historical and case material presented in earlier chapters. However, a number of qualifications need to be noted at this stage.

· To date it has not been possible to conduct rigorous analysis of the reasons for success and failure because of (a) difficulties in establishing indicators of determinants of organization; (b) the large number of dimensions and variables that need to be taken into account; and (c) the difficulty of operationalizing many of the key concepts relating to the resource base, the users and the organizations themselves (Rasmussen and Meinzen-Dick, 1995).

· Much of the analysis of forest CPRs relates to the past, which may provide only a partial guide to the future. Studying surviving systems that are under stress or in decline may yield only limited information about which conditions favour successful introduction of new and contemporary forms of common property management.

· Most past study of common property management was based not on forest-based resources but on fisheries, irrigation and range management. As was noted earlier, forest products users often have the option of meeting at least part of their needs from other sources if their forest CPRs become depleted. In contrast, users of many fish, water and range resources are unlikely to have such a choice. Their incentives to secure collective management are therefore likely to be more compelling than those of forest products users, and success with an approach to management of CPRs in these sectors will not necessarily be relevant to the forest-based sector.

· Finally, several recent intervention programmes, such as the Social Forestry programmes in India, have been concerned not with the appropriation of flows of outputs from an existing resource, but with creation of a new and different resource. This is likely to present quite a different set of governance problems (Gardner et al., 1990). Analysis of the effectiveness of one may therefore be of limited relevance to understanding the other.

The following sections focus on four dimensions of experience of particular concern to common property management: (1) the attributes of the resource, the user community and the local institutional mechanisms through which the community manages its resources; (2) the impact of commercialization, and other economic opportunities and pressures, on common property management; (3) the vulnerability of common property systems to conflict and dispute and how this relates to the legal framework of common property; and (4) ways in which the state supports or otherwise intervenes in common property systems.

Identifying local circumstances favourable to common property management

Physical and technical characteristics of the resource
Characteristics of the group of users
Attributes of institutional arrangements

By definition, collective systems can function only if the group is organized or can organize itself to function collectively. A degree of coordination between users is necessary in order to create and enforce rules of use and to provide individual members with access to inputs and services that are more effective when organized collectively. The literature on the subject suggests a number of factors that might affect the capacity of local institutions to organize the management of forests as common property (see Box 11). The discussion that follows concentrates on three key areas (Rasmussen and Meinzen-Dick, 1995):

· physical and technical characteristics of the resource;
· characteristics of the group of users; and
· attributes of institutional arrangements.

Box 11: Factors Affecting Cooperation In Local Organizations for Natural Resource Management1

1 Identified as affecting the degree or possibility of cooperation from discussion in the literature of the Chicken Game, the Assurance Game, Tit-for-tat Strategy, and the Fairness Game.

· Relative benefits of cooperation (over alternatives)
· Size of the user group
· Users' perceptions of time horizon
· Degree of communication between players
· Expectations
· Degree of trust
· Willingness to try cooperation
· Catalysts to initiate cooperation
· Stability of the group
· Existence of other cooperative structured
· Non-anonymous relationship between members
· Content of social norms

Source: Rasmussen and Meinzen-Dick, 1995

Physical and technical characteristics of the resource

A basic characteristic is whether the resource has definable boundaries and can be protected. Management of a CPR is more likely to be effective if the resource is close to the user group and can be readily monitored. Another basic consideration is whether the resource can be divided up or not. An area of forest that can produce multiple products only as long as its multispecies structure is maintained more or less intact is more likely to induce collective management than tree stocks that could be split up into individually managed units, such as woodlots, or that generate outputs that can be produced from farm trees.

The incentive for users to invest in collective management is likely to be greater if the resource is capable of meeting a substantial part of users' needs, and if these benefits can be obtained rapidly and regularly. An early survey of indigenous user group systems in Nepal (Molnar, 1981) found that these were likely to be active only if the resource was sufficiently rich and substantial. If users felt their local resource was too poor or small to generate additional outputs commensurate with the efforts needed to protect and manage it, they were unlikely to make this investment. Within the CAMPFIRE programme in Zimbabwe, uptake was greatest in those communities where wildlife was an important part of their natural resource base.

By the same token, situations involving forest that is producing already are likely to provide a greater incentive to local collective management than woodlots that will produce only after several years. In West Bengal, the VPC programme has been more successful in areas well endowed with sal forest, which regenerates rapidly and produces early returns from non-timber products, than in those where returns had to be concentrated on plantations. In the Quintana Roo project in Mexico, interest has been greater in those ejidos where the forest is rich in mahogany and chicle than in those where returns from poorer forests compare less favourably with what can be earned from agriculture.

Therefore, the tendency to allocate degraded forest or scrubland for collective management in many programmes has probably often weakened the incentive for users to participate. The same is true if the resource allocated is too small to meet many of the users' needs. Resources that produce outputs that are valued locally, and products that members of the user group can benefit from in an equitable manner, are also likely to provide a stronger incentive to common property management than others that do not. The fact that these last two conditions were not met clearly became disincentives to local management in the Social Forestry woodlot programmes in India.

Another factor is the ease with which the resource can be managed by the user group. The Quintana Roo case, in which local communities are engaged in commercial logging and processing, shows that complex processes and sophisticated technologies can be handled at this level, given an appropriate institutional framework. In contrast, the fact that local communities were not trained and equipped to handle the tree management regimes they were expected to adopt has been cited as one reason why they were unwilling to take over responsibility for the Social Forestry woodlots in India.

Characteristics of the group of users

It has been widely argued that small homogeneous groups, confined to those with similar views on the use of the resource, are more likely to be successful than larger, more diverse groups. There are many instances where smaller groups do seem better able to sustain common property regimes, but the thesis that smallness is invariably desirable is being increasingly challenged. Although the task of dividing responsibilities and benefits may favour small and cohesive user groups, the task of managing and exercising control over the resource may call for a larger body that encompasses all those with a claim on the resource. Powers to negotiate with the state and to protect boundaries are also likely to favour larger bodies (Ascher, 1995; Stewart, 1991). For example, a recent study of the Van Panchayats in India has shown that larger groups are likely to have greater resources and therefore are better able to invest in protection and other services (Agrawal, 1996).

The benefits of size may also be achieved by 'nesting' the user group in a larger local body, such as the village leadership, a panchayat committee or the District Council. Alternatively, user groups can come together to form larger associations, as the VFAs in Korea did. Similarly, as was noted earlier, user groups in Nepal are getting together in order to share experience and obtain greater access to, and negotiating influence with, government services (Hobley, 1996b). On the other hand, it has been suggested that local institutions should be no larger than is necessary to include all those who need to have a voice in making decisions about the goods in question, the management system and the resources that need to be invested in that system (Thomson, 1992).

Though commonality of interest among users can have obvious benefits in terms of internal cohesion, the thesis that this should be sought invariably is also being questioned. It has been suggested, for instance, that heterogeneity can encourage the emergence of leadership and cooperation (Ostrom, 1990). However, being able to arrive at a consensus about who is to be included or excluded in a user group appears to be essential for its effective functioning.

Migration, mobility and market integration can all affect the stability of the community, and lack of stability can undermine the possibility of voluntary collaboration. Education or exposure to knowledge and ideas from elsewhere may alter members' perceptions of what they want from the CPR or from collective action. Changing attitudes and increasing wealth may introduce opportunities to benefit from privatization, or introduce the danger that the user group will become dominated or usurped by an emergent elite within the broader community. As communities change in these ways, the composition of a user group and its objectives are likely to need to change as well.

Attributes of institutional arrangements

Institutions are defined as the sets of rules by which societies live. They include formal rules established by law and official regulations, and informal rules established at the initiative of people and the groups that people form (see Box 12). Organizations are established to help (1) focus the development of rules; (2) formalize them through codification, legalization or social contract; and (3) enforce and implement them through incentives, persuasion or force (Gregersen et al., 1993).

In some situations, a local institutional infrastructure capable of managing the available forest resources already exists in the form of traditional leadership, an elected local body or a user group dedicated to this task. More frequently, it takes the form of a local body with general responsibilities. However, its capacity to manage forests may be limited if, as is often the case, its boundaries and jurisdiction do not coincide with the boundaries of the forest to be managed, or if it has no relevant experience in collective management of other local activities.

The extent to which the interests of those who run or control the organization coincide with the interests of the forest user group, or groups, is also a substantial issue. The elected panchayat bodies in India and Nepal proved to be unsatisfactory in this respect largely because of their predominantly political and bureaucratic agendas, and because they generally covered much larger areas and populations than the forest user group. Similarly, District Councils in Zimbabwe tended to put their interest in using the CAMPFIRE programme as a source of council income ahead of the claims on that income by the participating communities.

Box 12: Rules and the Creation of Rules

The role of rules

· Operational rules directly guide behaviour concerning a particular forest resource.

· Collective choice rules are rules for making operational rules (who can do so; under what conditions),

· Constitutional rules determine who is eligible to be included in the system, how collective choice rules can be made or changed, and who has the authority to create new units.

· Working rules guide people in making decisions, are understood by them, are monitored in application, and are enforceable; they may be formal or informal (written or unwritten).

Categories of rules

· Authorized relationships allocate rights, duties, liberties and exposures; they describe ability to control others and subjection to constraint by others-

· Authoritative relationships are the mechanisms by which rules are made enforced, modified and superseded. '

· Determining powers of officials are the authority that the latter have to mate decisions without review or supervision by others (if these powers are considerable authorized relationships and mechanisms can be manipulated significantly).

Source: based on Thomson, 1992 and Freudenberger, 1997

Box 13: Guiding Principles for Effective Local Institutions for JFM in India

· Viable social unit of organization:

Membership consisting of smaller, socio-economically and culturally homogeneous groups... tends to be a desirable, though not essential, condition... The majority of members should have a common interest around which to organize.

· Organizational norms and procedures: The local institution must evolve norms and procedures, whether formal or informal, acceptable to the majority of members for regulating their actions. These must be based on the principle of equitable rights and responsibilities of all members.

· Accountability mechanisms:

For sustainability, each local institution must have effective mechanisms to ensure accountability of individual members and the leadership. These should ideally include: clear and accessible records, annual elections of representatives, participatory and open decision-making, power to recall corrupt representatives, penalties for violation of rules.

· Conflict resolution mechanisms:

As periodic conflicts are inevitable, an effective local institution must have [access to] a variety of reliable conflict mechanisms. These could include: strong and trusted leadership, access to impartial and respected outside individual(s) or agencies, delegation of arbitration powers to the managing committee or other party.

· Autonomous status: For any local institution to genuinely function as the voice of its members, it must be an autonomous entity. For effective participation in a joint management agreement, its existence should not be controlled by the forest department; both partners may have equal right to terminate the agreement. The local institution should have independent legal status.

Source: Sarin, 1993

Another issue that has arisen widely is that an existing institution, reflecting social values from the earlier period when it came into existence, and long-standing and entrenched patron-client relationships within a community, may not adequately reflect the current interests and concerns of all its present members. In particular, there can be continued widespread exclusion of, or failure to properly involve, women and other disadvantaged groups (Hobley, 1996b; Sarin, 1993).

The need for concern about the equitable aspects of collective forestry initiatives can be considerable. As was pointed out earlier, in the review of programmes in India, interventions to increase the productivity of a CPR can change its use in ways that divert benefits from those who previously used it for low-value grazing, fuel, and other products and uses. The increase in the value of a CPR that results from bringing it into more productive use can itself create or heighten pressures to privatize it. There can therefore be losers as well as winners in the process of creating common property regimes.

Where suitable local institutions did not exist, programmes to encourage and support local management of forests have tried to create them, either building on what already exists or from scratch. The experiences reviewed in the last chapter illustrate some of the problems that can arise. The new institution may exclude some previous users of the CPR, or leave them worse off. For instance, by vesting authority in a local institution dominated by men, the position of women as users may become even weaker than before. Similarly, the claims of those adjacent to a forest may be given priority over those of users further away who are equally dependent upon it. Attempts to construct institutions to a particular formula can create groups that lack common interest or cohesion, precipitating conflict and dispute. The institution may simply not function effectively or may become dominated by particular interests or the forest department (Ascher, 1995).

A recent study on the subject (Thomson and Freudenberger, 1997) has consequently stressed the importance of carefully weighing the potentials for basing a common property management intervention on existing institutions, even with some of the limitations outlined above, against the difficulties of creating new institutions. Bruce (1996) has commented to the same effect: "One of the most difficult tasks in thinking through a [common property] system is whether one should rely upon existing institutions or try to create new institutions to manage the CPR."

Box 13 summarizes a set of guiding principles for effective local forest management institutions drawn up by an experienced observer of the programmes in India (Sarin, 1993). The following principles highlight a broader set of conclusions (McKean and Ostrom, 1995), which combine the lessons from long-enduring common property systems outlined in Box 5 with more recent experience.

· User groups need the right to organize their activities, or at least a guarantee of no interference.

· The boundaries of the resource must be clear.

· The criteria for membership in the group of eligible users of the resource must be clear.

· Users must have the rights to modify their use rules over time.

· Use rules must correspond to what the system can tolerate and should be environmentally conservative to allow a margin for error.

· Use rules need to be clear and easily enforceable.

· Infractions of use rules must be monitored and punished.

· Distribution of decision-making rights and use rights to co-owners of the commons need not be egalitarian, but must be viewed as 'fair'.

· Inexpensive and rapid methods of resolving minor conflicts need to be devised.

· Institutions for managing very large systems need to be layered, with considerable authority devolved to small components.

A final point on this subject is to reiterate the need to match each institutional arrangement with the particular need in a given situation. Sometimes contracts can play an important role in securing agreement among the stakeholders involved in a particular situation, particularly where the broader legal basis for control and use is unclear or difficult to establish (Bruce, 1998). In some situations, more formal legal forms, such as registration as a non-profit corporation, may be necessary in order to secure an agreement (Lynch and Talbott, 1995). The Quintana Roo commercial logging and timber operation, with its supporting autonomous institution (the SPFEQR), and the joint safari operations with private enterprises of the CAMPFIRE programme, provide examples of other arrangements that have been found to be appropriate and effective in particular situations.

It is clear that in some situations it will be difficult to establish the conditions for effective local group management at all. When local institutions have broken down under market, demographic and political pressures, it is not to be expected that new local institutions capable of controlling resource allocation and use can be created easily. Under such circumstances, the low returns and high social cost associated with trying to control common resources may prove so unacceptable to users that they prefer to let the resource be exploited in an unregulated open access manner, or within rules laid down by the forest department or some other arm of government.

Economic pressures and opportunities

It is generally argued that, as households become more integrated into the market economy and seek to generate more income with which to purchase goods, the task of creating effective collective forest management systems tends to become more complex. Labour and capital are diverted from management to more remunerative activities, and the potential to sell forest products or use them in commercial activities increases the pressures to overharvest the forest resource. More complex controls are likely to be needed, and the diversion of output from local to commercial uses is likely to shift benefits away from those who had depended on the forest for essential supplies of fuel, fodder, etc., exacerbating the potential for dispute and conflict (Stewart, 1991).

Box 14: Commercialization Pressures on Common Property Systems

· Simple rules are unlikely to be workable if a commodity has high value Incentives for appropriating the commodity and not cooperating are correspondingly high.

· Enforcement of rules is likely to be complicated by high value items, especially if the item is wanted by elites. Bribes and coercion to escape enforcement are more likely when high values bring in cash. Even outside observers can be bribed.

· Many organizations may not be flexible enough to adapt to rapid changes induced by commercialization. There maybe no current rules on commercial products and there may be no past rules to learn from.

· High-value CPRs and commercialized products create incentives for outsiders and the state to appropriate the land and dispute legal claims.

· Legitimacy of CPR use is contested by regional, national or International organizations who see their interest at stake in use of a resource or commodity.

Source: McElwee, 1994

The viability of common property systems can be affected both indirectly, through changes in their broader economic settings, and directly, by market demand for products of the CPR itself. The Indian situation outlined in Boxes 4 and 5 illustrates some of the patterns of interaction at the level of the economic setting that can bear on common property management (Jodha, 1990). Access to markets enables people to purchase some of the goods they previously had to produce locally, encourages a shift within agriculture to cash crops and is likely to make agricultural opportunities and urban wage employment more rewarding than gathering activities. The exodus of labour to off-farm employment increases rural labour costs and discourages labour-intensive activities (which includes most activities based on forest product gathering and use) in favour of cultivated or purchased goods. Improved emergency relief programmes, combined with easier access to purchased supplies, are likely to reduce dependence on locally gathered forest products as a source of food, fodder, fuel, etc., in times of drought or other hardship.

With increasing integration into the market economy, the number of forest products used tends to decline and become increasingly concentrated (Homma, 1992; Wilkie and Godoy, 1996). In a recent study in an area in western Malaysia, for instance, it was found that the number of forest species used or sold as food, medicines, etc., had declined during living memory from 279 to 71 (Lim Hin Fui and Jamaluddin Ismail, 1994). Rising costs and market competition also tend to reduce the number of saleable forest products produced from forest sources, in favour of domesticated sources or synthetic alternatives. One consequence is a widely observed shift of production from CPRs and other natural forest sources to tree stocks maintained or established on farms (Arnold and Dewees, 1997).

In many situations, therefore, the incentives to engage in collective control and management of a local common pool forest resource can be weakened because of the reduced role of CPR products in local livelihood systems or the decline in the viability or competitiveness of activities based on CPR products relative to other activities.

When products of CPRs become commercialized and are subject to market as well as local demand, the collective management system comes under additional pressure. In a 1994 review of the subject, McElwee identified a number of factors that supported the view that commercialization has the potential to destabilize common property systems (see Box 14). The negative impacts of commercial pressure on a common property system are likely to include increasing pressures from users both inside and outside the user group, breakdown of the mechanisms for exclusion and control, and overharvesting and degradation of the resource. Other common consequences include increased social stratification within the group, with elites capturing the benefits (e.g. diverting supplies from subsistence use and users), which increases the likelihood of social conflict. In South America, where transactions have traditionally been based on reciprocity, exposure to market forces has led to even more fundamental breakdown within a community. The increased value commercialization gives to the resource is also likely to attract the interest of privatizers and encroachment (Runge, 1986). In addition, increased value may encourage the state to capture a share by charging royalties, establishing marketing boards or imposing restrictions that limit the ability of communities to compete with it as a producer. The consequence of all such pressures is likely to be increased transaction costs associated with maintaining a collective management system, often to the point where it is abandoned.

On the other hand, market demand can also give added value to CPR products, which could increase the economic incentive to control their use and management. McElwee (1994) identified the following factors that seemed to contribute to success in coping with commercialization of products of common property systems at the community level.

· There is a lack of colonial experience in the past.

· There is a history of involvement in commercial production within the community.

· There is strong group cohesion.

· Distribution of benefits is well defined (and so is not captured by elites or the state).

· The item has cultural significance in the community, which encourages cooperative harvesting or marketing (e.g. native crafts).

· Appropriate use rules exist or can be developed.

· Competition for the resource is limited, and has not been a problem in the past.

McElwee concludes from her review that "communities who seem best able to adapt to commercialisation are those with flexibility in determining whether to participate, which allows control over the degree of change, or those in which change has been less rapid."

Similar patterns can be found in common property systems still functioning in Europe. In the eastern Italian Alps, for instance, in areas where forests have been managed as CPRs for centuries, local institutions have adapted to shifts in management objectives from meeting local demands for fuel, etc., to organizing activities for producing and processing for the market, and most recently to generating economic benefits from tourism (Merlo, 1995; Morandini, 1996).

Some of the more successful cases identified in this study are those that needed, and were able, to create new institutional arrangements specifically geared to commercial operations. In Quintana Roo, the ejido groups function as industrial corporate entities, with the cooperative SPFEQR acting for all the groups in the market and in negotiations with the state. In Korea, it was again an umbrella cooperative organization, the NFFAU, that gave the village-level groups marketing strength and access to support services. In the CAMPFIRE programme, joint ventures with the private sector provided access to the specialized safari and hunting skills and experience of that sector. In the Van Panchayats in India, the management and marketing of the timber component of the resource is left to the forest department, with the communities getting a share of the proceeds.

Vulnerability to conflict and the regulatory framework14

The legal and tenurial context
Conflict resolution

14 This section draws in particular on Bruce. 1998.

By its nature, common property use and management is vulnerable to conflict and dispute, because the creation of common property excludes users from outside the user group. The group's right to exclude is likely to be challenged by others who want access to the CPR. In addition, not everyone within the community is likely to agree with the creation of a common property regime for the resource: "We should expect the legal basis of common property to be challenged from both inside and outside the community" (Bruce, 1998).

Bruce (1998) distinguishes the following categories of dispute:

· disputes over exclusion, including

a) disputes over exclusion of former users under custom, and
b) disputes based on an asserted right by an outsider to use the resource under national law;

· disputes over collective choice processes;

· disputes over rules for resource management and enforcement of rules on members; and

· disputes with the state over its role.

It is argued that conflict is often a normal and even desirable element of social interaction, leading to needed changes (Pendzich et al., 1994). However, disputes can debilitate and undermine the common property institutions involved, and if not resolved can lead to their eventual collapse (Bruce, 1998). Effective resolution of conflicts and disputes therefore becomes very important, but can prove problematic because of the exceptionally complex and confusing nature of the legal and regulatory context of common property.

The legal and tenurial context

The understanding and resolution of many of the conflicts and disputes that arise over forest resources and uses usually is complicated by an overlapping and constantly changing tenurial situation. Indigenous tenure systems have different arrangements for land under different uses, with each tenure defined by the application to it of a specialized set of tenure rules. A tenure niche is defined in terms of who will use the resource and on what terms, with different community members having different rights within different niches. It is where niches overlap that conflict can occur (Bruce, 1998).

The extent of this complexity in the case of India is illustrated in Box 9. In their study of tenurial niches in Zimbabwe, Fortmann and Nhira (1992) stress the potential for conflict and dispute that overlapping niches create, and make the additional point that "tenurial niches must be recognized as evolving rather than static forms of social organization, even when their legal status remains static."

The situation usually is complicated further by the unsatisfactory nature of the broader legal framework. In most countries there is no single body of law dealing with common property. Instead, it is covered by parts of the laws concerning organizations, tenure and administration (Bruce, 1998). The legal basis for common property therefore is often very ambiguous and open to legal challenge.

The task of establishing the legal basis is made more difficult by overlapping and poorly reconciled systems of national and community land law and custom. In most countries, Western tenure and more recent systems designed to transfer control over land from local to the new political elites coexist with community systems, undermining the latter but seldom providing a satisfactory alternative because they are not enforced (see Box 15). This causes confusion, because the legal status of land and forest resources becomes unclear. Community-based rights can be challenged in terms of national law, and local groups can encounter difficulty in using the law to assert their rights (Seymour and Rutherford, 1990). Without secure legal backing, local people are also left in a weak position for negotiating change with government and can be left exposed to risk by even the best-intentioned initiatives introduced by the latter (Singh, 1986).

The examples of the Mexican ejido case, the Nepal case and, to some extent, the JFM case in India, show the benefits of having legislation specifically designed to support common property systems, i.e. legislation and regulations that provide authority both to communities and government agencies and enable them to generate the necessary rules, regulations and operational measures. However, governments are commonly slow to amend laws or pass new ones. The situation in Thailand is not unusual; the government and government agencies have permitted an increasing measure of de facto local control and management and have drafted supporting legislation, but they have been reluctant to process it. The underlying uncertainty, and therefore the risk for local user and management groups, consequently remains.

Box 15: Overlapping Modern and Customary Land Law and Custom

The typical outcome [of a country's history] is a legal layer cake. At the bottom are a variety of local, community-based systems whose formal validity may or may not be recognized by statutory law. Alongside them, usually quite limited in extent, are tenures from the colonial period, generally freehold (full private ownership) and leasehold. Over them are one or more layers of failed attempts to replace them with a unified national land law enacted after independence... There is a major tension between these systems in the law and custom concerning land and natural resources.

Source: Bruce, 1998

Box 16: Processes Used in Conflict Resolution


attempt by a neutral third party to communicate separately with disputing parties for the purpose of reducing tensions and agreeing on a process for resolving the dispute.


voluntary process in which parties meet face to face to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of the issue.

MEDIATION is the...

assistance of a neutral third party in a negotiation process. Mediators have no power to, render a decision.

Source: Pendzich et al, 1994

Conflict resolution

The existence of a dual or multiple legal system means that people may have to face different fora in order to settle a dispute under the different legal systems. This complicates the task, at minimum causing lack of clarity and confusion to claimants. A recent study of disputes in forest use and management found that a substantial proportion of those involved in disputes or conflicts did not know what mechanisms existed to deal with their complaint, or what procedure to follow (Rose, 1994). These overlaps and this lack of clarity in the system favour the powerful, who can take advantage of the alternative opportunities the system provides (Bruce, 1998).

Since the bodies of legal rules may be unacceptable to those involved because of imprecision, lack of equity or lack of consistency with local practice, many disputes or conflicts may be addressed through means other than legal recourse. (Bruce, 1998; Rose, 1994). People may also be discouraged from using the legal system because of the cost, or because the courts are weak and are likely to be ignored. Alternative conflict and dispute management mechanisms employ collaborative approaches in order to reach mutually acceptable resolution of conflict through voluntary processes. The principal mechanisms are conciliation, negotiation and mediation (see Box 16). The form and source of intervention is likely to differ for different levels of dispute (Pendzich et al., 1994). While a local arbitrator may be best for internal disputes, a neutrally aligned third party is likely to be needed for disputes between groups, and an impartial adjudicator for disputes with the state (Rose, 1994).

Such collaborative approaches need to be seen as a complement, as well as an alternative, to adversarial approaches or political action and can be particularly suited to many situations. It has been argued (Rose, 1994) that local institutions are probably best suited to settlement of disputes between members of the same user group. In contrast, government agencies or higher courts are likely to be better suited for settling disputes between user groups that do not share a local institution in common, that have not cooperated previously, or that will not accept local decisions. If the conditions under which the common property regime operates have been altered, groups in dispute are likely to need outside help in developing a conflict management system adapted to the new framework.

Bruce (1996) has noted that collaborative methods are the most frequently used approaches to conflict management in developing countries, but that once an adequate legal framework for forestry (see Box 17) is in place, adjudication has substantial advantages. These include the ability to compel participation and enforce a settlement over the objection of one or more of the parties.

The presence of the state

Decentralization and devolution
Transition issues within forest departments
NGOs as intermediaries and providers of support services

For successful collective management, it is essential that the user group have security of access to and use of the resource. Effective local control, or joint control with the state, requires the willingness and ability of government to legitimize and empower the local institutions and help them enforce their rights.

As was discussed above, common property systems have long been subjected to pressures by governments wishing to increase their control over local activities and resources. This has accelerated recently as part of the process of nation-building in the postindependence period. The result has been "the ever increasing tendency of the state to expropriate the initiatives of the people" (Jodha, 1990). The inevitable resulting conflicts with existing power structures and allegiances encourage governments to take measures to undermine and remove previously functioning local governance and management systems, and replace them with political and bureaucratic structures and regulations (Thomson and Freudenberger, 1997).

Decentralization and devolution

Concern with structural adjustment and reduction of the size and the role of government has recently seen the beginnings of a reversal of the accumulation of responsibility and power at the centre. This has led to moves to decentralize to the local level and to devolve to private and non-governmental sectors activities that they can handle as effectively and efficiently as the state. The increased interest in common property systems owes much to their relevance to these new priorities.

However, some of the consequences of the ways these new policies have been pursued can themselves threaten common property management. For instance, as was noted above, the widespread titling of land to individuals in many countries of Africa (on the advice of the World Bank and the IMF that this would encourage agricultural growth) threatens the complex of overlapping rights that previously enabled different categories of users to access some part of the resource on those lands (Neumann, 1996). Similarly, concerns have been expressed that the new law allowing Mexican ejidos to sell land, again undertaken in the name of increased agricultural efficiency, could undermine the present collective use and management of forest resources on that land (Goldring, 1995; Richards et al., 1995).

Box 17: Features that Need to be Included in National Law

· Constitutional protection for common property, comparable to other property rights, and care over regulation of trees and their use which undermine economic incentives provided by property to communities as well as individuals.

· The law on natural resource management, including the forestry law, should recognize generally or provide for recognition in particular cases of existing indigenous forms of common property, and organization for managing them. The provisions should be sufficiently flexible to allow modification of some elements of these forms by community by-laws. It should be possible to elect to use indigenous tenure rules about use, but to reform the organizations which manage the resource; or vice versa.

· There should be a co-management regime available, recognized both by the general law on natural resources and in the forestry law. It should allow shared management between a state agency and one or more local communities, and should be applicable in situations of a resource utilized by multiple communities, where it is not feasible for any one community to assume exclusive management. This regime should be available for both land that has been under community control and land that has been under state control.

· The forestry law should allow the state to delegate control over forest resources that have been under its control... The law needs to allow for a contractual, negotiated process. Given the experience in these situations, it is likely that initial attempts to give communities access will be cautious. A minimum expectation as to delegation should be stated, but the framework should be relatively flexible and allow a good deal of fine tuning of forms to local circumstances. Community forestry provisions in forest laws can fill important gaps in general law, providing a fuller range of options for forests.

· Gender issues must be addressed, and are difficult whether one is dealing with indigenous or statutory institutions. Solutions include emphasis on membership organizations, with membership on an individual rather than a household basis; gender quotas on governing bodies; and initiatives limited to women (e.g. women's village forest management committees being contracted areas of forest).

Source: Bruce, 1998

Also, there are concerns about who benefits and who loses when governments decentralize responsibility for forest management to local levels. For example, the Social Forestry programmes in India were widely perceived as having adversely affected those who previously used the common lands on which the trees were planted for grazing, fodder, fuel and other produce - generally the landless and poorer members of a community (Arnold and Stewart, 1991).

A more widespread concern is the extent to which the state actually relinquishes power and responsibility through some of these programmes. One observer has pointed out:

"Recent decentralisation activities within the forest sector in India could be considered to have led to greater penetration of the state into the village, without the villagers acquiring an equal degree of power to question the actions of the state. As the state continues to reassert effective ownership over forest land through forest management organizations, the presence of forest officials in these groups is considered to be an essential controlling feature. In many situations, village forest committees established under joint forest management have effectively become an arm of the Forest Department, rather than being developed as independent organizations that could challenge the authority of the department" (Hobley 1996b),

The case material discussed above shows that this reluctance of the state to relinquish control is widespread, e.g. the delays in passing draft legislation in favour of community forestry in Thailand, the reluctance to use existing authority to empower indigenous forest protection committees if they are perceived to be too active in Orissa (India), the ineffectiveness of most of the measures in favour of indigenous groups in South America, and the devolution of authority in Zimbabwe to local government rather than to the user communities. Even in Nepal, with its unusually progressive policies and legislation, the state reserves the right to reverse the process of devolution of control over forest land to local groups, and retains ownership of that land.

Transition issues within forest departments

Joint implementation of forest resource management systems with local groups confronts forest departments with tasks that are radically different from those conventionally associated with management of state forests for timber and watershed protection. Whereas the latter requires centralized bureaucratic structures and hierarchical decision-making, the former, involving provision of support to others to enable them to manage the forest resource, calls for a decentralized structure staffed to allow decision-making at the field level by those working directly with the user groups.

Recent studies have highlighted a number of problems that forest departments are likely to face in making this transition. It can be difficult for them to give up the power, status and control over budgetary and extrabudgetary resources and income stemming from their control over large areas of forest. Existing practices are usually well entrenched and strongly linked to the "patronage systems and rent seeking within government organizations and with outsiders [that] are often the real determinants of institutional behaviour" (Hobley, 1996b). The benefits of involvement in participatory forestry seldom appear to be as substantial or satisfactory.

The transition can be complicated by the fact that, in many countries, forest departments continue to be responsible for regulatory functions and direct management of large parts of the forest estate. Trying to combine this with transfer of control of parts of the forest estate to others creates understandable internal tensions and confusion. For instance, the following comment has been made in relation to Nepal: "A major problem is that the organization which has been given the responsibility for devolving control of forests to local communities also represents the interests of those who have most to gain by maintaining control of forests themselves. The Forest Department is being asked to use its authority to give away its authority!" (Gilmour and Fisher, 1991).

A second problem area relates to the contrast in approaches appropriate to the traditional and new tasks foresters face. Public forests are most effectively managed by development and application of management models and techniques that can be applied uniformly over large areas. This encourages risk-averse behaviour that conforms to the norms associated with these standardized tasks. This contrasts strongly with the diversity of physical and social situations that participatory forestry represents. These factors put a premium on innovation, responsiveness, willingness to take risks, learning from experience and flexibility, all attributes unlikely to be nurtured in the highly structured bureaucracy of the usual forest department (Hobley, 1996b).

It has also been argued that in some parts of the world the ability and willingness of forest departments to engage in participatory forestry is hampered by patron-client relationships that exist in public service organizations. Information is considered to be of value, to be exchanged for something of equal value, and therefore not to be made readily available to lower levels of the hierarchy. Such value systems inhibit the development of bottom-up planning (Hobley, 1996b).

The difficulties in moving toward decentralization have been aggravated in some countries by governments that set very ambitious targets for participatory forms of forestry. Understandable moves to introduce collective management as quickly and widely as possible have, on occasion, resulted in programmes on a scale so large that centralized control and uniform patterns of intervention are unavoidable.

Reports from common property programmes in South Asia have drawn attention to the particular difficulties that conflicting interests within forest departments cause for their field staff. They are caught between the need to conform to the values of their service and the necessity of being able to respond to the needs and aspirations of the communities that they are expected to assist. It has been found that at the early stage of participatory programmes, junior field staff can become severely overtaxed by the magnitude and unfamiliarity of the new tasks (Campbell and Denholm, 1993).

These difficulties encountered within forest departments help explain the reluctance by foresters to hand over responsibility for management. The result is that some programmes have been hampered by failure of forest departments to honour their new obligations or enforce the laws and regulations that enable newly empowered rightholders to secure their rights (Seymour and Rutherford, 1990; Thomson, 1992). Real progress is likely only when field staff feel involved and committed to the new approaches. Encouragingly, there are signs in countries where the transition is relatively far advanced, such as India and Nepal, that such a change in attitudes is beginning to happen.

NGOs as intermediaries and providers of support services

The rigidities and constraints faced by many forest departments in making the transition to a role that supports management of forests as common property have resulted in a situation in which NGOs occupy an important role in many collective forest management programmes. NGOs can play an intermediary role between state and users, can facilitate change at the village level and can act as trainers of government staff in community-organizing skills. In the Philippines and Thailand, and now in India, NGOs have constituted an important part of institutional support groups that have played a key role in identifying and negotiating mutually agreeable strategies. In the Philippines and India, lead NGOs are now producing guidelines and manuals that provide a framework for field worker activities. As noted above, specially created umbrella NGOs in Mexico and Korea play critical roles in linking producer groups to the market and support services.

Success depends on identifying the right NGO for the job. Not all NGOs are better equipped or skilled, or more appropriately motivated, than the government departments they seek to displace. Recently there has been increased awareness that some NGOs are pursuing their own agendas (e.g. related to environmental issues), which are not necessarily congruent with the interests of the populations they work with.

Another factor that can intrude is tension between NGOs and government or government departments, such as forestry departments, because of perceptions that NGOs are pursuing goals that conflict with the interests of government. It has also become evident that forest departments are sometimes delegating tasks to NGOs to avoid having to do them themselves, i.e. in order to "avoid internal change" (Dove, 1995). A better approach would make use of the complementary strengths of NGOs and forest departments, rather than treat them as alternative ways of providing external support to groups managing forests as common property.

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