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Written by: Bernard Bonnet
Organizations: Institut de Recherche et d’Applications des Méthodes de Développement (IRAM), Réseau Agriculture Paysanne et Modernisation (APM), Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer pour le Progrès de l’Homme (FPH)
Type of document: Paper / Document for wide distribution
Bernard Bonnet, « Problématiques foncières et gestion des ressources communes. Regards sur quelques situations et expériences en Afrique de l’Ouest », Communication, Forum Social Mondial, Porto Alegre, janvier 2001.
Recreating local decision-making bodies for the management and planning of common resources
Management of natural resources of the South of Mayo-Kebbi (in Chad’s Sudanian Savannah region) is focused on the management of community resources (grazing land, water, forests, game, wood, fish resources, etc.) by means of community-based institutions and resource management systems. It attempts to organise local environmental actions by using the traditional system of community resource management. The approach is based on the concept of Local Decision-Making and Organisational Bodies, characterised by three orientations, which are to:
Begin with existing management structures and improve their capacity and efficiency by avoiding the creation of new structures that are too dependent on an ad hoc, ‘project’ type organisation;
promote dialogue and negotiation between the different categories of users so that the actions carried out strengthen the links between communities;
privilege gradual learning of new procedures for operating and making decisions within existing local structures.
The approach aims to reinforce four essential functions. Their conception, implementation and follow-up are effectuated by local natural resource management policies:
a. General orientation for natural resource management: the definition of matters and major problems to be resolved;
b. Formulation of precise work and management programmes, and development of effective incentive policies;
c. Monitoring and verification of the application of community rules: monitoring and evaluating the measures’ performance and results, monitoring and control of financial management;
d. Mediation and/or arbitration between user groups: conflict prevention, sanctions in case of non-compliance with community management rules.
Village representatives, customary land managers, involved socio-professional organisations (fishermen, hunters, farmers, herders) and local resource preservation groups gather together for inter-community assemblies. These « forums » are a first step in the deliberation about existing management rules for areas between villages having one or more important resource: lakes, game reserves and forests, drainage basins (catchment areas). The approach followed aims to develop a management charter, which will confirm or redefine management rules, and will establish the procedures for control, sanction and mediation.
Putting resource management in the hands of different groups of local actors, several projects have been accomplished as part of the goals defined within the local decision-making bodies 1.
These projects expand the technical frames of reference used for managing the six vital resources of the local economy 2.
The participants’ involvement in the assemblies, the opening of genuine debates, the massive presence of village representatives and the logistical organisation taken up by the county that hosts the assemblies should be highlighted as initial successes. Note should also be taken of the advantages offered by testing analysis and planning methods in a cooperative fashion. Thereby, everyone is called to adopt new perspectives on land and resources, the consequences in terms of deterioration and the measures that may be taken to contain them.
The establishment of these local assemblies has brought the technical services of the State, the local chiefs and the socio-professional organisations closer together. The first result is improved awareness of the respective duties of these different actors. Also, progress was made in conceiving common management rules and recognising their importance. At this stage, the local managing bodies do not constitute new institutions in the sphere of local development and natural resource management. Actually, they bring together local actors involved in the sustainable use of resources (decision centres, farmers’ organisations, heritage conservation associations). The main benefit above all else is learning new methods of working together, panel discussions and how to make strategic decisions about the measures that provide access to common land and resources.
The advantages and limits of this approach
This type of approach nonetheless raises a number of questions about the longevity and the checks on authority within such decision-making bodies. The first question concerns the recognition and legitimisation of the decision-making bodies and the representatives. Conflicts might be provoked because different bodies’ domains of intervention overlap.
A constant quest for the greatest local democracy underpins the ways in which different groups of actors and users are represented. In a general way, the duty and power of the « representatives » and « delegates » of the villages and organisations involved remains fuzzy.
Decision-making systems and the enforcement of community rules are still crucial to the success of these experiments. Rural populations’ interest in defining the main direction is evidenced by the debates held during the assemblies, but the process of making decisions continues to lack formality. Many uncertainties could arise concerning communities’ actual engagement in the application of whatever decisions may be made.
The viability of such measures depends on the level of involvement of different users’ groups in establishing these rules. Much work needs to be done in order to define the processes of reaching a consensus which would legitimize future rules.
One of the main difficulties in implementing systems for natural resource management also lies in the establishment of procedures for enforcing the rules. This is particularly true with regard to measures limiting users’ access rights (preserves, temporary prohibition). Also, this brings out the reflex for wanting to exclude external users (migrating herdsmen, fishermen and hunters from neighbouring areas, etc.). Distrust of government control has reached such levels that local people tend to take on the role of rural police themselves. The authorities’ dubious capacity to demand respect for the rules established by a wide consensus is part of a larger problem. In fact, the power invested in and the duties accorded to local organisations and State representatives have yet to be rigorously defined.
The weight of external funding that supports such local dialogue also poses a few concerns. Does the motivation demonstrated by local actors simply reflect their desire to receive a grant for their projects, no matter how small it may be in this case? Consequently, more support must be given for the establishment of systems capable of covering progressively the costs of each of these local decision-making bodies. Ensuring this is vital in order to provide for the greater autonomy of these farmers’ organisations.
The possibilities for institutionalising these local decision-making bodies make up a subject that is still open for discussion. Experimenting helps to better identify the procedures that can be used to organise territorially-based renewable resource management groups. However, the long term goal of establishing an official management structure ought to include the short-term objective of appealing to those who do not yet perceive all that is entailed in cooperative management.
Making rights secure before registering them
The kinds of farming in the Sahel region, which are on their way to economic marginalisation, necessitate the management of grazing lands, natural forests, water, and hunting ground. The approach employed for regulating the use of such resources needs to fall between two opposing extremes: absolute and exclusive property on the one hand, and totally free and deregulated access on the other. In these circumstances, the management of common resources must integrate mobility, sustainability, equity and reciprocity, while also integrating priority rights when they exist. These are all elements that contribute towards ensuring land security for farmers and which require a process of consultation-mediation-arbitration between groups of users.
Only once these prerequisites are in place will it be possible to progress towards recording rights in view of establishing a land registry to formalise boundaries and especially the diversity of individual rights and group rights, and priority and temporary rights in land and its different resources.
Translation to English : Mary Rodeghier aGter
1 During the first phase, implementing this approach led to 152 local projects for managing natural resources on the village and inter-village scale (42 villages and farmers’ groups, 3 users’ organisations and environmental protection organisations were involved).
2 The land (previously untilled lands, crops in strips, compost, regeneration of Acacia albida parks), forest (fruit or forest tree groves, the protection of fringing forests and combating fire), grazing land (development of water points, the identification of transhumance routes), fish (regulations, protection of spawning grounds, conservation), wildlife (protection and evaluation of wildlife resources), water (protection of sources and river banks).
Gestion commune des ressources naturelles : vers un renforcement des capacités locales, IIED, dossier n°94, août 2000, 24 p.