Institutional practices, natural resource management and livelihood strategies in Muhur, southwest Ethiopia

Mengistu Dessalegn Debela, Syracuse University

ISBN 9781124010397


This dissertation examines theoretical and policy-related issues concerning community natural resource management (NRM), focusing on serege , communally-held pasture and natural forest lands in Muhur-Gurage, in southwest Ethiopia. It explores how NRM interrelates with institutions, livelihood activities, and land tenure, as well as linked cultural, symbolic and political-economic contexts. Many studies of the commons often focus too narrowly on institutions, neglecting key and interrelated social, cultural and livelihood factors contributing to successful local resource management. They frequently portray resource management as isolated from other aspects of local ways of life. Instead, my study proposes that factors contributing toward successful local resource management depend on how institutions dealing with resource management relate to other local institutional practices, local ways of life, and how the common property resource system relates to livelihoods and livelihood activities. Besides, sustained commons management depends on how different tenure systems relate to each other in terms of land use practices. This research is based on a one-year long fieldwork conducted in Muhur through formal and informal interviews, key informant interview, participant observation, and household surveys. The ethnography provides holistic analysis of NRM. It analyses how local NRM is not a separate concern but part and parcel of other local ways of life. The capacities of institutions to deal with local resource management relate to the wider institutional framework based on which people have established institutions to meet diverse local needs. The study indicates that the value of the commons prescribing greater concern for NRM depends on how the resource utilization mechanism relates to users' livelihoods and livelihood activities, beyond the unit value of natural resources. It analyzes how livelihood diversification widens people's options to survive, alleviates pressures on natural resources, and how variations in livelihood diversification entail different conditions of NRM. The study also indicates the bi-dimensional aspects of tenure insecurity and tenure security, highlighting how tenure insecurity/security vis-à-vis private farmland holdings relate to common holdings. In addition, it indicates how land-based commons operate can be defined in relation to tenure security, property-rights and local institutions, particularly in a situation where land is under state control.