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From Subsistence to Sale: Institutional Change in Indigenous Women's Access to Common Pool Resources

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Merten, Sonja
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Global Transition: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities, the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Conf. Date: August 9-13
Date: 2004
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/510
Sector: Social Organization
General & Multiple Resources
Region: Africa
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
indigenous institutions
land tenure and use
customary law
Abstract: "The analysis of local livelihood strategies allows insights in the complexity of how natural resources are used and intrinsically linked among each other. As complex as the livelihoods are, as much interact the effects of institutional changes with regard to these livelihoods with the different types of resources. In the case of the Ila, the socially shaped access to cattle and arable land, previously tenured by the collective of an extended family and their kinship groups, has undergone a process towards privatization. The consecutive decline in access to cattle and its products, together with the decrease in social coherence and security has, in addition to environmental and macroeconomic change, created new consumption needs, formerly satisfied by (subsistence) production of the extended family, but what nowadays has to be bought elsewhere. This creates an additional need for cash. As opportunities for income-generating activities in remote rural areas with a low population density and low infrastructure are rare, people quickly rush into informal sectors such as the fisheries, as soon as there is a market, out of different reasons: Common pool resources, which used to satisfy subsistence needs, and of which the indigenous people have the knowledge and technology how to use them, are easily transformed into products for sale by men as well as by women. Secondly, a new market attracts foreigners to come and exploit the resources, which have formerly been regulated and used exclusively by the indigenous people. This de facto open access situation can be seen in a game theoretical approach as a classic prisoners dilemma as described for many open access situations (see Ostrom 1990): In this constellation (Following game theory,) it is still better for local users to profit first from ones own resources than to wait until the immigrants have taken everything. "An institutional change affecting the access to a common pool resource, can either lead to a change in subsistence production, or of income generation strategies or, more likely, of both, engendered. Many consumption needs of today concern foodstuffs formerly produced by the extended households themselves. Smaller, nuclear households, though, lack the capacity of producing especially proteins throughout the year in an extensive way of production (cattleherding, fishing, and hunting). There will be a tendency to substitute the lacking foodstuff with other foodstuffs, often less valuable. Goods such as foods are not freely interchangeable, but their qualities have to be considered. In a rural area lacking market and storage structures, exchangeability of goods is again limited. Starting out from subsistence needs that ought to be fulfilled, strategies of substitution have to be looked at. These depend on different variables such as the subtractibilty of a specific common pool resource: after extraction of a unit this unit is at the moment not available for other users and therefore these have to look for other resources (see Becker and Ostrom 1995). That foreign and local users are attracted to common pool resources, which are subtractable, is related to the relative prices, which can be gained from selling these resources. The reason for them being attractive in a specific situation and season as a cash income has got to do with external factors in socio-political, economic, demographic and technological environment in which they are placed (f.e. new roads, markets structures and less flooding give easier access to CPR in the flats, less formal job opportunities due to economic crisis and high fish prices make fishing and fish trade attractive for urban people compared to looking for jobs in the city, see Ensminger 1992)."

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