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Informal Cooperation in the Commons? Evidence from a Survey of Australian Farmers Facing Irrigation Salinity

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Marshall, Graham R.
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
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/2165
Sector: Agriculture
Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Pacific and Australia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
community participation
institutional analysis
social capital
institutional economics
transaction costs
Abstract: "Land and water management plans developed for the four irrigation districts surrounding Deniliquin in the River Murray catchment are said to be at the leading-edge of Australian institutional innovations for integrated resource management. Farmers have been strongly involved in the development of the Plans and in deliberations regarding their implementation. Implementation accountabilities have been devolved to Murray Irrigation Limited, a company wholly owned by its irrigator customers. The plans primarily focus on an emerging tragedy of the commons, with the area's soils are predicted to become increasingly degraded by salinisation unless local cooperation is achieved in limiting watertable recharge. The irrigator-owned company can thus be regarded as a common property regime insofar as its watertable management function is concerned. "The community ownership rhetoric behind these institutional developments seems to signify an attempt to come to terms with the high, often prohibitive, transaction costs typically associated with formal governance of a common-pool resource. The reasoning appears to be that local human and social capital is the key to finding institutional arrangements which realise the potential of local informal capacity for self-organisation and thereby lessen the need for formal governance. "In an effort to go beyond anecdotal evidence of the alleged contribution of the informal in this instance, a face- to-face survey of 235 farm businesses was undertaken. This allowed the influence of various products of social capital, including trust, reciprocity and norms, on both farmer commitment to, and intention to comply with, their district's plan to be tested statistically. Findings are discussed in the paper."

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