11.3 Conclusion: A tentative appraisal of on-going processes

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The aforedescribed changes in the economic and social environment with which village societies are confronted are of utmost importance from the standpoint of the present study. Unfortunately, they tend to undermine rather than to strengthen the collective action capabilities of these societies. Let us now summarize the most significant of these deleterious effects and, whenever possible, to interpret them in a meaningful way in the light of the theoretical insights provided in Part I.

First, in many countries state intervention in the management of village-level natural resources has had the effect of threatening traditional sources of subsistence livelihood; making customary rights highly insecure and thereby destroying informal co-operation mechanisms; bypassing traditional regulatory authorities and, by doing so, undermining their power and social prestige; and allowing large-scale intrusion of business interests in the domain of these resources. A puzzling question here is why this intrusion has in the majority of cases led to a rapid degradation of natural resources. A possible answer is that, in many instances, the concessions granted by the State contain no restrictive clause regarding the preservation of the resource, and therefore, the licensee feels under no obligation to return the resource in a fairly good state.

This may explain degradation, but the very rapidity of the degradation process remains to be accounted for. A plausible explanation lies in the short-term nature of many logging concessions. In Sumatra (Indonesia), for example, environmental destruction has a lot to do with the fact that such concessions are usually granted for twenty years while hardwood takes thirty-five years to grow ( The Economist, 24 Sept. 1994: 68). Moreover, even when lease contracts are long term, the incentives of the licensees may not be much improved in so far as the credibility of the government is often doubted. There are indeed frequent changes of policy or political regime which lead licensees to feel insecure about the future state of their rights. Note that, even if private rights are secure, markets where rights over natural resources are traded are imperfect enough to prevent an efficient pattern of exploitation. In addition, rights-holders may truly wish to exploit the resource as intensively as possible because they feel uncertain about its future price and/or because they want to plough back the profits thereby earned in other investment avenues that look more promising, more secure, or fit better with the investor's preference structure (for example, a preference for urban over rural assets). Regarding the effect of price increases, it may be recalled that a rise in the price of CPR products does not necessarily have the effect of increasing the users' incentive to conserve the resource (see Chapter 1).

Second, there is apparently an insurmountable limit to a top-down approach in which the State has to resort to taxes and fines in conditions of highly imperfect monitorability of users' behaviour. This is essentially because, in conditions of costly monitorability of users' behaviour, a central agency has to impose severe punishment to deter rule-violation and make a centralized management scheme effective. Unfortunately, this solution is likely to be difficult to implement in many countries since the imposition of heavy fines may cause considerable resentment among the populations concerned and thereby threaten the stability of the ruling political order. Or, such a measure will induce perverse behaviour in the form of active corruption of state agents with the result that the scheme will not be properly enforced. The latter problem is particularly worrying because it involves obvious equity problems: indeed, the ability actively to corrupt the law-enforcers varies considerably among individuals and groups according to their wealth and political leverage.

Third, one of the most glaring effects of market integration is that it enhances economic, social, and geographical mobility. This produces numerous effects that affect collective action capabilities at the village level. The most important effect, in the context of this study, is that it gradually detaches individuals from their traditional community settings. There are several aspects involved here:

  1. People no longer believe that their own future, less that of their children, lies with the natural resources surrounding their native village. Since their traditional rights and obligations are not tradable on a perfect market, they are led to neglect or overexploit the resource (see above, the last motive mentioned under the first point to explain resource overexploitation by business interests). In game-theoretical terms, the exploitation game in which they play is no more of infinite duration.
  2. The frequency of their interactions with other rights-holders over local-level resources diminishes, with the result that the degree of their involvement in community affairs is lower and their information about the resource is reduced. On both counts, their incentives to adopt cooperative behaviour are impaired.
  3. By offering alternative opportunities to meet increasingly specialized needs, market integration has the effect of separating the various spheres of economic and social life at the level of the village, the family, or the clan. Hence, it reduces the scope for interlinked long-term relationships and the size of the social units within which informal co-operation mechanisms take place. As a result, the global assurance game which the members of the rural community were playing gradually dissolves to leave room for a series of restricted PD games.
  4. The diffusion of urban values and the spreading of formal Western-type education erode traditional patterns of authority and loyalty networks that often play an important role in the enforcement of CPR management schemes. They also tend to instil in the youth negative images of hard manual work and rural-based occupations.

Fourth, market integration causes dramatic shifts in individual preferences through the demonstration of new consumption patterns and modes of living. This profound change creates in people a pressing need for cash, i.e. it modifies their rate of time preference in favour of present consumption. As a result, they may be tempted, whenever possible, to overexploit their resources, to grant exploitation licences, or even to sell out their productive assets in order to obtain the needed liquidities. The pressure of new consumption needs may be actually so strong as to push even poor people to take sale decisions the pros and cons of which are not sufficiently weighed, SO that these decisions are likely to be regretted at a later stage. There are several ways through which the pressure of needs drives people to adopt such irrational behaviour: myopia and imperfect knowledge or foresight about their long-term income prospects or the long-term consequences of their present decisions in conditions of rapidly changing ecological and socio-economic environments, or even obedience to social norms prescribing costly consumption patterns aimed at preserving or enhancing social status.

The intrusion of business ventures into the traditional resource domain is therefore not to be ascribed only to collusion between the State and powerful private interests. It may also sometimes result from voluntary sales by customary rights-holders who are possibly inexperienced in the cash economy or, more often, by rapacious chiefs and rural elites who are eager to make easy profits regardless of their responsibilities as traditional trustees of the village commons. In this last regard, market integration (together with national political integration) has a potentially vicious effect in that it vastly increases the power of customary authorities by making available new sources of privilege and wealth that arc independent of their traditional, rural-based constituencies. In particular, the emergence of privatizable rights over erstwhile village commons leaves ample room for surreptitiously transforming traditional custodianship prerogatives into tradable exclusive rights.

This last point shows that, even in the absence of mobility, traditional users may be prompted to degrade their local resources. It bears emphasis that resource degradation consequent upon increased market integration need not take the form of depletion of the whole resource. Indeed, market integration may also result in a modification of the resource composition, with some species being replaced by other species which are more commercially profitable but less interesting from an ecological viewpoint. The example which springs to mind is that of forestry since producers who are eager to extract forest products as intensively as possible are likely to fell primary forests and replace them by quick-maturing tree species (such as eucalyptus). Clearly, environmental degradation is to be measured in qualitative as well as in quantitative terms and, once this is done, there may appear to be much more ground for state intervention in order to prevent negative external effects from occurring.

The foregoing conclusions may sound too pessimistic, however. And, to some extent, this impression is true. As a matter of fact, market integration may yield positive effects that are to be weighed against the negative outcomes highlighted above and that may turn out to be decisive in certain circumstances. More notably, by creating new income-earning opportunities unrelated to the exploitation of land and other natural resources, it may help relieve pressure on village-level CPRs, especially if the CPR products do not have a high commercial value. If the latter condition is not satisfied, as we know, there is a risk that, in order to invest their savings in other avenues deemed more attractive, rural dwellers will follow a shut-down path of resource exploitation. Yet, in this case, provided that there are no externalities, CPR degradation ought not to be a cause of worry since villagers do not depend any more on them for their subsistence. It may also be borne in mind that, when pressure on local CPRs is made less intense, there is a better chance that traditional users will become fully aware of the threat to their environment and will be able to take effective steps towards countering it before it is too late (see Chapter 10).

Besides relieving pressure on local CPRs, the emergence of alternative economic opportunities which follows increasing market integration may put an end to resource degradation processes. Indeed, remittances from relatives who have found a regular job in urban areas may alleviate subsistence constraints on those who have stayed in the village and enable them to build up their resource to a level where it is optimal to conserve it (the steadystate level). In other words, remittances may allow poor rural dwellers to get out of the vicious trap in which the resource is gradually degraded down to the (shut-down) point where production is no longer possible (see Chapter 1, sect. 4).

Despite the above qualifications, the tone of this chapter remains rather pessimistic. In so far as many writings analyse the conditions of successful village-level CPR regulation in developing countries—the object of our next chapter outside of the macro-context in which rural communities actually evolve, we thought it important to draw attention to a number of broadlevel changes that tend to make this collective regulation more difficult. More precisely, we wanted to emphasize that development of the market logic in the context of a modern nation-State gradually and deeply affects the mode of functioning of these communities at the same time as it alters the world-view and consequently the behaviour of the actors in the countryside. In Chapter 12, we largely abstract from the above changes and attempt to look at the determinants of success or failure of CPR regulation from an empirical perspective grounded in village case-studies. The conclusions that are reached in Chapter 12 will therefore have to be qualified by the considerations put forward in this chapter but the more optimistic view presented in the next chapter should mitigate the more pessimistic tone of the foregoing analysis.