Towards Successful Collective Action for Watershed Development for Improved Smallholder Livelihoods in West Africa

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"Livelihoods of many people in Sub-Saharan Africa are tightly depending on sustainable watershed resources. Therefore in several countries, watershed development has become a major issue and many interdependent smallholders with low resource endowments are concerned by the use of associated natural resources. In the particular context of West Africa, watersheds are embedded in complex property right relations among users, making collective or individual investments for their development too risky or too difficult to organize. The diversity of watershed development outcomes, for instance infrastructures like stone bunds and institutions for governing watershed activities are analyzed as public goods and common pool resources (CPRs) using the common theory perspectives. It is well known in the literature that collective action is a necessary condition to resolve problems related to public goods and CPRs in different circumstances. Beyond existing empirical explorations of conditions for collective action, this paper focuses on the design of a pathway to make successful collective action to happen using ideas, concepts and theories of communication, social learning, and management sciences. Insights from watershed projects in Benin, Togo, Mali and Burkina Faso enabled understanding of the (i) nature of watershed development problems, (ii) the learning path for alternative solutions, (iii) external support to implement solutions, and (iv) effects on collective action and smallholders livelihoods. Key lessons are learnt concerning ways of making watershed problems visible, learning to share a common understanding, and strategies for catalyzing behavioral changes for facilitating the emergence of successful collective action. A synthesis is provided to inform new practices that underpin local institutions building for watershed development that would benefit resource poor smallholders in West Africa."



collective action, watersheds, smallholders, institutions