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Changes in Relative Prices, Open Access, and the State: A comparative Analysis of Institutional Change of CPR Management in African Floodplain Wetlands

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Haller, Tobias; Helbling, Jurg
Conference: Survival of the Commons: Mounting Challenges and New Realities, the Eleventh Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bali, Indonesia
Conf. Date: June 19-23, 2006
Date: 2006
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/2026
Sector: General & Multiple Resources
Region: Africa
Subject(s): IASC
open access
common pool resources
institutional change
institutional economics
design principles
institutional design
Abstract: "In 'The Drama of the Commons' one of the key issues addressed was how generalised information on the institutional setting of the commons can be compared. One can draw on a large number of empirical studies. However, these are not based on the same outline making comparison a difficult task. Attempts at quantitative comparisons have been presented (see Ruttan at IASCP 2004) but they suffer from the same problems mentioned above. We argue that a qualitative comparison could be the key for further work. Therefore our department has started the African Floodplain Wetlands Project (AFWeP). We analyse differences and similarities in institutional change that CPR-management systems (fisheries, pasture, wildlife etc.) face in ecologically comparable settings - floodplains in semi-arid regions in Africa. Eight researchers from Swiss and African Universities conducted the fieldwork based on the same outline in Mali, Cameroon, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana. As theoretical basis, the New Institutionalism (North 1990), most elaborated in Anthropology by Jean Ensminger (Ensminger 1992, Ensminger and Knight 1997) and the early work of Elinor Ostrom on institutional design (Ostrom 1992) was used. The hypothesis was that external changes (global and national economy, socio-political, demographic and technological) affect relative prices of goods and services, making floodplain-CPRs more or less attractive and having a major effect on local level bargaining power and institutional change. One finding is that the state, which is taking over the management of the CPRs, creates de facto open access because it lacks the financial means to enforce laws and is not able to exclude immigrant foreign users. At the same time, local rules are eroded, weakened or transformed by local powerful people. But our results go much beyond this generally known finding: A) Not all traditional rules are completely eroded. Some of them remain and form a legal pluralism because they enable access to tradable CPR- goods for powerful local actors and administrators alike: We argue that rules which pay are going to stay. But this does not contribute to a sustainable use of CPR resources. B)De facto open access by an inadequately operating state is not the only problem. The problem is that the state in many of the examples studied is paradoxically present and absent at the same time. Seasonal immigrants see themselves as citizens of the state under often decentralised, democratic systems. Local stakeholders are not empowered or backed by the state to exclude these users. C) One of the key independent variables for sustainable use is not only robust local institutions but the economic situation of the state having an impact on changes in relative prices. In our sample only Botswana has favourable economic conditions (diamond export) and does not face the same crisis as the other countries do, where CPRs are attractive livelihoods for many people. "The paper contributes to the debate of robustness and resilience of local as well as state institutions depending on the economic condition of the state and raises the question how and who shall craft local institutions in the context of the state."

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