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Maintaining A Fragile Balance: Community Management of Renewable Natural Resources in Tigray, NE Ethiopia

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Chisholm, Nick
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/716
Sector: General & Multiple Resources
Region: Africa
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
resource management--case studies
sustainability
collective action
equity
social capital
community participation
Abstract: "The paper examines the link between community-level use of renewable natural resources, the sustainable management of those resources, and the sustainability of livelihoods for communities dependent on such resources. "The paper is based on Ph.D. field research conducted in Tigray Region, NE Ethiopia. This is an area characterised by high levels of poverty, chronic food insecurity, frequent drought, and high observed rates of land degradation. Conventionally it is assumed that poverty and tenure insecurity are the main causes of the high rates of land degradation. Given that Tigray, in common with most parts of Ethiopia, has experienced significant changes and discontinuities in tenure regimes over the last 25 years, it could be presumed that land degradation would be an inevitable result. "Yet the evidence is far from clear on this point. The paper focuses on four areas, representative of different types of natural resources forest, small grazing areas, a traditional irrigation system, and a watershed - where common property resource management systems, and/or collective action arrangements, are operating. The paper examines in detail the management systems in operation which attempt to ensure sustainable management, and which are also adaptive and responsive to equity concerns, for example of landless households. The paper demonstrates both the pervasiveness of common property/collective action arrangements, and also the variation in the nature of these arrangements within a very small spatial scale, e.g. within a single sub-catchment one finds hillslopes which are passively managed, intensively managed grazing lands, privately operated farm land but with seasonal access rights for grazing, and community-managed irrigation systems. "The paper also explores the implications for sustainable resource management of external shocks, for example drought and the effects of new State policies in relation to tenure, local administration and project-oriented technological developments. The paper suggests that resource management is more likely to become unsustainable i. e. land degradation is more likely to take place as a result of specific external shocks which can upset the 'fragile balance' achieved by communities through common property management arrangements. In the case of Tigray, in addition, the role of 'social capital' appears to be important in contributing to the maintenance of common property management regimes which attempt to combine sustainable resource management and commitment to a relatively high degree of equity of access. "The paper concludes by presenting an exploratory conceptual framework which the researcher intends to use to quantitatively analyse the interactions between the 'carrying capacity' of common property resources, the management systems governing those resources, the effects of and impacts on different socio-economic groups using the resources, and the impacts of external factors such as drought and State action."

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