13.4 Conclusion

Back to contents - Previous file - Next file

In selecting a form of resource regulation, a government is not confined to the spurious and simplistic 'State versus community' dichotomy. A wide range of intermediate options is actually available which will be more or less effective depending upon the strength and collective action potential of basic user groups. If these groups are not solid or autonomous enough to dispense with significant assistance from the State, if they need to be protected against the encroachments and the damage caused by broad-level forces and the powerful interests of other economic sectors, if there are severe intergroup conflicts which cannot be settled in a decentralized way, or if it is imperative that local action takes place within a national resource policy framework, some sort of co-management contract between government and user groups may appear as the most promising arrangement for management of local-level CPRs.

On the other hand, if user groups or rural communities are deemed to be totally incapable of sustainable collective action to manage such resources, co-management may look too ambitious an approach. In these circumstances, more authoritarian or bureaucratic methods are likely to be unavoidable. What is then important is to design operational and organizational procedures in such a way as to get resource users involved to the largest possible extent in management tasks and also gradually to develop—instead of stifling—whatever self-management abilities they may possess. As we have seen, this requires that the officials' jurisdiction be clearly demarcated from the users' jurisdiction.

Even assuming that rural communities have good potential for collective action, the challenge implicit in any genuine co-management approach ought not to be underestimated. It is indeed truly enormous, especially because political considerations can seriously threaten the viability of co-management schemes of village-level CPRs. As underlined in Chapter 11, government policies in many developing countries are often aimed at strengthening the hold of the State over the civic society. Unfortunately, this typically implies that state authorities have an interest in tightly controlling all significant attempts by local communities at organizing themselves, particularly so if these attempts result in the development of large-scale grass-roots movements or networks or in the assertion of claims for more autonomy. When strategies of political control (say, through more or less forced integration of these movements in dominant political parties or organizations) fail, every effort is generally made to break them or, at least, to undermine their strength by stirring up divisive tendencies within them. Such reactions can only have the effect of widening the trust gap between the State and the village communities.

Without a fundamental change in the state approach to the civic society, therefore, the prospects for genuine co-management look dim. But even admitting that such a change cannot be realistically expected to occur in the foreseeable future, depletion of local-level natural resources needs not occur if centralized state agencies set up for the purpose follow appropriate procedures that succeed in creating the right kind of incentives to prompt both state agents and local resource users to feel responsible and accountable for the management of village-level CPRs. The main lesson to be drawn from the successful East Asian type of organizational structure for irrigation management is precisely that resource management can be effective even within the framework of relatively centralized parastatal agencies, provided they are being granted considerable autonomy within their geographical juridiction.