Who's managing the commons: inclusive mangement for a sustainable future

Who's managing the commons: inclusive mangement for a sustainable future

Effective management of the commons in Sahelian countries requires flexibility and decentralisation

This article discusses what is the best means of managing the commons. The article stresses that these are critical questions in the current wave of decentralisation and tenure reform taking place in many Sahelian states. Although governments are passing new legislation to devolve the responsibility for managing natural resources to local communities, and despite growing awareness of the vital role of the commons in local livelihood systems, there is still some resistance to transferring power to local communities.

The article concludes that:

  • the policy environment in the Sahel, though not perfect, is broadly favourable to devolved natural resource management, Donors, NGOs and government ministries are becoming increasingly aware of their “new” roles as facilitators and adopting, albeit gradually and with some reticence, more participatory approaches
  • against this broadly favourable backdrop there are numerous local initiatives working to identify appropriate tenure arrangements for the peaceful and sustainable management of common property resources in the Sahel. Many of these efforts are led by local groups themselves seeking to resolve conflicts over resource access at the community-level
  • influencing policy within the arena of common property resource management in the African drylands, particularly in relation to pastoral land use, has proved to be very difficult. This situation can be explained by a flawed understanding of the dynamics of Sahelian production systems and the importance of political dynamics (i.e. policies serving the interests of particular groups rather than users of common lands)
  • a major constraint to the joint management of common property resources is the high level of transaction costs incurred in trying to involve different groups in an equitable, transparent and democratic way. Given these costs, it is necessary to demonstrate its benefits not only to the local community but policy makers as well. Empirical research can play a vital role in this process
  • Sahelian ecosystems are unpredictable, diverse and dynamic. To cope with this situation land use management strategies need to be flexible to accommodate change and uncertainty; they need to be equitable to take account of multiple user rights; and they need to be locally managed to promote sustainable use. There are no perfect models to determine how land and resources should be managed, only some basic principles

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