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Sharing Power. Involving local communities in projects and policies for the sustainable management of natural resources

Two significant examples from Ethiopia and Iran

Documents sources

Borrini-Feyerabend Grazia, Pimbert Michel, Farvar M.Taghi, Kothari Ashish, Renard Yves et al, Sharing Power - Learning by Doing in Co-management of Natural Resources throughout the World, IIED, IUCN, CMWG, CEESP, 2004

Involving local communities in projects and policies for the sustainable management of natural resources is absolutely essential, and yet often neglected. Local communities know more than anyone else about their territories, and often apply non written management systems that allow them to live from their natural resources without putting their conservation in danger. When positive laws and policy makers forget about those customary rules, or non written management systems of the territories, it often leads to economic, social and environmental failures, as shown in the example of community-conserved landscape of the Oromo-Borana in Kenya (box 9.3). On the other hand, the example of the community-conserved area in Iran (box 9.4) shows that involving the local communities into participatory action research programs can help us to strengthen sustainable natural resources management systems.

Box 9.3: The making of unsustainable livelihoods: eroding the community-conserved landscape of the Oromo-Borana (Ethiopia)

(adapted from Tache, 2000a; Tache, 2000b; Bassi, 2002)

The whole ethnic territory of the Borana, in Ethiopia, can be considered a community (ethnic) conserved area. The territory has been managed for centuries through rules that assured the sustainable use of renewable natural resource. Some specific provisions embedded in culture assured bio-diversity conservation per se and the sound management of natural resources was promoted through norms of inclusion/ exclusion designed for all pastoral activities and known as seera marraa bisanii–-”the law of grass and water”. The Borana “law of grass” shares the basic principles of most East African pastoral groups. It differentiates between dry season pastures (with permanent water points) and wet season pastures (with good grass, but only accessible during rains), imposing the maximisation of use of wet-season pasture whenever possible (during rains), to minimise pressure on the most intensely utilised rangelands served by permanent water points. The “law of water” is instead peculiar to the Borana and their environment, which is characterised by the presence of numerous well complexes (the tulaa wells being the most famous among them). This law is extremely articulated, regulating in various ways the social and economic investment necessary to develop traditional wells and water points, access and maintenance. Through the normal cycle of well excavation and collapse, over-exploited dry season areas are abandoned and new ones are developed.

The juniper forests found in Borana lands have a special role, which is common to many East African forests used by pastoralists. Being too humid, they are not suitable for permanent pastoral settlement. Some open patches, however, contain excellent pasture and the forest also provides permanent springs. For centuries such forests have never been permanently inhabited but reserved as dry-season pasture. They had a crucial function as last refuge for grazing in case of drought, reserve for medical and ritual plants and overall symbolic and ecological meaning. They were not subject to special management provisions besides the very strict prohibition to start fires inside them, but were an integral and essential part of the survival system of the Borana.

The environmentally sound management of natural resources in Borana land assured the conservation of a unique biodiversity patrimony (including 43 species of wild mammals, 283 species of birds and many unique plants and habitats) until the 1970s, despite the establishment of some small towns close to the main forests already at the beginning of the 20th Century. From the 1970s onwards, however, the Borana environment was confronted with major changes in land use. The government limited movement within the ethnic territory and promoted agriculture, facts that deeply affected the Borana natural resource management system. The situation dramatically collapsed after the change of government in 1991. Political representation of the Borana within the local government became utterly marginal and policies that could only be described as “actively destructive” of their livelihoods were implemented. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) facilitated the resettlement of people in Boranaland who were not actually from the area (the great majority of them being neither Borana nor Oromo speaking), multiplying the number of permanent settlements in the region. The resettled villages were assisted through international aid and agriculture was promoted as their livelihood strategy.

Among the newcomers were also some non-Oromo pastoral groups that managed to manipulate international aid and gained political support. They obtained large tracts of Eastern Borana territory, which were annexed to “their” region, including critical pastoral areas of the Borana. More land resources were lost by the Borana in the process of “economic liberalisation”. Large ranches were acquired by international investors and extensive portions of land around the towns, located in their critical dry-season pastures, were assigned to town dwellers for small-holding cultivation. The majority of the town dwellers are neither Borana nor Oromo. A high inflow of migrant Muslim Oromo was also allowed, and those undertook extensive farming, especially in the Liiban area.

The local government has been acting as if common property land is no-man‘s land, to be assigned to whoever is claiming it. Indeed customary common property and community conserved areas are not currently recognised in Ethiopia. This process of land alienation has been affecting the most productive lands and the crucial ecosystem patches. The Borana have been squeezed into the driest pockets, bound to become overgrazed. Scarce rain during the last decade produced devastating effects and acute livestock destitution. The only possible survival strategy for the Borana has been to engage in farming in the remaining least suitable places, hoping for a harvest next year. Thus, the amount of land put under cultivation and alienated to the pastoral mode of production dramatically increased, as a sort of chain reaction. The patches of biodiversity in forests got exploited for a variety of commercial purposes, with no regard to sustainability. But, as everyone should have known, the traditional land of the Borana is not suitable for agriculture due to both low and irregular rainfall. Since 1998, the Borana and millions of other pastoralists and agro-pastoralists survive in Ethiopia on the brink of starvation, often entirely dependent on food donations from abroad. Neglect and active tampering with traditional resource management systems created a pattern of unsustainable livelihoods for an entire people and are effectively destroying most of the unique biodiversity harboured in the area.

Box 9.34: Restoring the traditional tribal organisation - the first step towards managing a Community Conserved Area in Iran

(adapted and updated from Farvar, 2003; see also Field example 1.3 in Chapter 1)

The Kuhi — one of about 20 Sub-tribes of the Shish Bayli Tribe of the Qashqai nomadic pastoralists of Iran — are currently engaged in participatory action research about their own “sustainable livelihoods”

and the conservation of biodiversity in their landscape. Their action-research refers to a resource management unit comprising their summering and wintering grounds and their associated migration routes in between. As part of this, the Kuhi held several workshops and their first concern was to involve the whole community. One of the major problems identified was the breakdown of the traditional organisational strength of the tribes. They analysed their governance situation in some depth and decided to recreate their autonomous organisation, building upon traditional patters but ensuring that those would be able to respond to modern challenges, including notions of participatory democracy. Extended negotiations led to the establishment of the “Council for Sustainable Livelihoods of the Kuhi Migratory Pastoralists” and its associated Community Investment Fund, which is now pursuing initiatives in each of the 5 categories of problems/ needs identified by the Sub-tribe. Such initiatives include support to animal raising, marketing and quality-control for highly priced gabbeh rugs produced by women, health care access, capturing of solar energy for various uses, access to legal support, and access to educational books and videos. The initiative that excited them the most, however, is about restoring natural resources to their common property care and control.

tres in length, shared between the Kuhi and the Kolahli Sub-tribes. This has been a community conserved wetland from time immemorial. The Kuhi know all too well that they obtain many “ecosystem benefits” from this wetland, including water reserves, reeds for handicrafts, fodder for animals, fish, medicinal plants, micro-climate control, and wildlife. In a controversial plan, the government had ear-marked part of the area to be divided up among households for agricultural use and had diverted part of the water of the wetland for irrigation. The newly constituted Council, on the other hand, believes it is better to preserve this area as a “qorukh” or “hema”— to be conserved by the community. It thus submitted a petition to the relevant governmental authorities to formally declare the wetland and the surrounding rangelands as a Community Conserved Area (CCA), with use rights being regulated by the Sub-tribe elders. The petition is being reviewed by the government and it is hoped it will be accepted under a larger co-management accord by which the respective areas of authority and responsibility of the government and the community will be agreed to mutual satisfaction. In terms of IUCN categories, the overall CCA could be considered as a protected area of category V (landscape management objective), with the wetland as a portion under category II (ecosystem management objective). The Council of Elders has managed to register itself as a legal entity— a unique occurrence in Iran for an indigenous social organisation. Action recently taken by the Council includes a successful redressing of recent invasions of its customary rangelands through court action.

This initiative is showing important ways in which nomadic livelihoods can fully reconcile with conservation. The initiative is supported by the Centre for Sustainable Development (CENESTA, a national NGO in Iran), the Organisation for Nomadic Peoples Affairs (ONPA, a government institution), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), IUCN/ CEESP‘s Working Group on Sustainable Livelihoods, FAO (interested, among other things, in coping strategies of nomadic pastoralists in the face of drought), and WAMIP (World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples). The GEF (Global Environment Facility) implemented by UNDP has expressed interest in learning from the experience of the project for policy advocacy, and the Christensen Fund said it will support its extension and replication in other tribes and countries as a strategy for both conservation and cultural survival.