An institutional approach to appropriation and provision in the commons : a case study in the Highlands of Eritrea

Habteab Sibhatu, Adam (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2006-12)


The natural resources mainly land, forests, and grazing lands in the Highlands ago-ecological zone of Eritrea are in a severely degraded state. And much of these common pool resources comprise commons i.e. they are managed under the common property rights management regimes. “The tragedy of the commons”, model suggests that all commons will inexorably suffer overexploitation and degradation. Contrary to this deterministic proposition, however, common property theory argues that the ‘tragedy’ is not due to inherent flaws in the common property rights management regimes, but because of institutional failure to control access to resources, and to make and enforce internal decisions for collective use. If the commons dilemma situation exists- i.e. ‘tragedy’, then the underlying problem is the degeneration of the existing common property rights resource management regime into open-access-like regime—a condition that can potentially trigger “the tragedy of the commons”. The question of how to deal with the problem of the commons is, therefore, primarily an issue of the existence of efficient institutions. The prevailing severe degradation of the common-pool resources in the Highlands of the country thus calls into question the robustness of the common property rights regimes that are in place for the governance of these resources. This thesis attempts to address this important problem specifically in relation to forest and grazing land common pool resources. A case study based on a single-case qualitative and exploratory-explanatory research design was carried out in a village located in the Highlands of the country. Data were collected through various forms of interviews (semi-structured interviews, in-depth interviews, key informants interviews, group discussions, and informal conversational interviews), direct observation, and document review. The data, gathered largely through using these separate lines of enquiry, were crosschecked to provide a triangulation of methods and to strengthen the validity and reliability of the data. The empirical findings reveal that existing common property rights management regimes for the management of the local common pool resources of the case study area have weakened over time. These findings indicate that, there is a significant incongruence between appropriation and provision rules. And this is manifested in terms of appropriation externalities and demand side and supply side provision externalities. This situation implies that existing local institutional arrangements i.e. common property rights management regimes in the case study area are not sufficiently robust to solve common pool resource appropriation and provision externalities. Though generalisation cannot be made beyond the case that was studied, there are several lessons that may be drawn from this field analysis, which may have valid implications for the natural resources management challenges and opportunities of the entire Highlands agoecological zone of the country.

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