Collective Action and Natural Resource Management in Rural Cambodia

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"This paper is based on empirical research in rural Cambodia within the CAPRi project on 'Collective Action and Property Rights for Poverty Reduction'. It assesses the relation between collective action and local level resource management. It furthermore explores what factors on village and household level influence the occurrence of collective action and its ability for sustainable resource management. The paper will also show, that missing law enforcement at local level will generate uncertainty and jeopardize efforts to coordinate for natural resource conservation as well as it weakens local resource rights arrangements. "In Cambodian rural areas natural resources contribute to multiple uses for income generation, ranging from collecting forest fruits for subsistence to additional income generation through logging. Mainly due to population pressure and succession schemes, arable land becomes scarce and forest and even fishing resources are turned into farmland by filling land into ponds. Given these facts pressure on the natural resource base is quite high and even increasing in Cambodia. Ongoing resource degradation increases the incentives for conservation. Whether natural resources are preserved depends on the ability of rural people to coordinate and act collectively in order to minimize free riding and inhibit outsiders to exploit the resource. In Cambodia, recent history of genocide and forced collectivisation destroyed much of the trust necessary for successful cooperation in institutions. In recent times, formal natural resource management institutions are often introduced by outsiders (NGOs or the Royal Government), whereas informal institutions at village level are initiated by local authorities (village leader, Buddhist priests, village elderly, etc.). Given this, the paper focuses on the impact, resource scarcity and access to livelihood assets (human, social, physical, natural capital) has on the occurrence of collective action at household level and what roles external actors play in introducing or enforcing local use rights on village level. "Preliminary findings indicate that in Cambodian rural areas both, people with a high and a low asset base, face strong incentives to pursue individual profit maximization: People possessing few productive assets are less able to refrain from resource use in order to achieve food security. People with a strong asset base do not fear losses through punishment when free riding is detected. Uncertainties about access and use rights as well as unclear responsibilities aggravate excessive resource use in the Cambodian setting. As Cambodian society is rather hierarchically organized, local level leadership seems to play a crucial role in the quality of resource management. Additionally, the cases indicate that externally introduced institutions are less successful in sustainable resource management as collective action takes place in rather small groups, who exclude poorer, less powerful individuals. The paper will close with a discussion on the role external and local institutions play in the rural areas in Cambodia."



IASC, rural affairs, collective action, poverty alleviation, indigenous institutions, economic behavior, sustainability