General Conclusion

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In this conclusion, we would like to bring into focus what we consider to be the most salient findings or propositions of our study and to draw the policy implications therefrom.

By concentrating their analysis on the impact of various property regimes on the pattern of resource use and generally assuming that information about resources is perfect or almost perfect, economists tend to overlook one of the most important causes of resource mismanagement. As a matter of fact, it appears that in many instances direct resource users and state authorities are not fully aware of the ecological processes at work, or, at least, they tend to underestimate the long-term negative effects of their present use on the future state of the resource.

As far as state authorities are concerned, their imperfect knowledge originates not only in limited expertise but also in the considerable complexity of the ongoing ecological processes. Unfortunately, these two factors tend to combine their effects in the case of developing countries. In effect, the aforementioned complexity is usually much greater in tropical than in temperate zones. For example, understanding fish behaviour is more complicated in tropical than in temperate waters, partly because the number of interacting fish species is considerably larger in the former than in the latter. In view of this comparatively great complexity, the lack of administrative, technical, and scientific expertise in poor countries is especially serious. Lack of financial means can only reinforce this handicap and is particularly difficult to remedy given that States in poor countries tend understandably to give priority to short-term objectives over longterm (including ecological) concerns. Here is clearly a field where outside assistance is fully justified. It must also be borne in mind that governments, especially so in the context of young nations, tend to give priority to distributive and political concerns (the two of which are usually intertwined) over efficiency considerations. Only wishful thinking can result from ignoring the basic facts that make up the political economy of the developing countries.

As far as user groups are concerned, one needs to call into question the romantic view according to which such groups are perfectly informed about the resource simply because of proximity. Confusion in the minds of researchers sometimes follows from the fact that in many village communities rules exist for regulating access to local CPRs in an equitable way. Yet from this, it cannot be inferred that these communities are able to devise rules for resource management proper (which is a more complex affair). If understanding of ecological phenomena or stock-flow relationships (which involve abstract concepts and causal reasoning) is inadequate among direct resource users, as seems to be attested by many field workers, education has obviously a central role to play in any approach aiming at improving CPR management. Here again, we find a clear case for outside assistance: villagers may need help to draw together a number of critical in-the-field observations which have so far remained unconnected, and to articulate these observations in meaningful causal sequences. Such assistance is likely to be called for especially when resources are not well localized, not easily visible, and rather unpredictable.

Things may be far more complicated still, as suggested by our above remark that ecological processes may be quite complex as in the case of many tropical maritime fisheries. If this is the case, one may have to reckon that there is genuine uncertainty about the impact of human harvesting efforts on the stock of a resource. And to the extent that exogenous factors (such as changes of currents) beyond man's control are possibly responsible for resource depletion (and, perhaps, at a later stage, for their sudden recovery), users may be perfectly justified in intensively exploiting their natural resources without getting too preoccupied about the ecological impact of their own harvesting behaviour. There is clearly no tragedy of the commons behind such kind of behaviour, yet the State may be justified in laying down rules of restraint to insure against the risk of irreversible degradation of an essential resource (whether for production or for consumption).

Economists have spent much effort on examining the question of the comparative efficiency of various resource management regimes. The insights provided by economic theory are extremely valuable, even though they do not point to a particular regime as 'the' best solution. Such a perspective of intellectual scepticism has been adopted in this book. Thus, privatization does not necessarily emerge as the appropriate solution in all situations where overexploitation of natural resources is under way. Private property on natural resources may be problematic both from an equity and an efficiency viewpoint. The equity problem is particularly worthy of attention in the context of poor countries where the livelihood of poor people crucially hinges upon their access to village-level CPRs. Efficiency problems are not to be underestimated in view of the pervasive market imperfections characterizing developing countries. On the other hand, state resource management, or any centralized mode of resource management, suffers from serious information gaps. Problems originate in the difficulty of collecting information not only about a huge variety of resource types and microclimatic constraints (for which general management prescriptions are of no avail) but also about the behaviour and the customs of the user groups themselves as well as the specific constraints confronting them.

What about the community-based approach to resource management? To the initial pessimism of the tragedy of the commons' doctrine, a more optimistic phase has succeeded characterized by the belief that village societies are able to use their resources efficiently provided that the State does not interfere. This change of mood and outlook is grounded in two significant intellectual events. For one thing, there has been an upsurge of in-depth field studies pointing to the considerable collective action potential of rural communities and, for another, nonco-operative game theory has shown that co-operation is a possible outcome in such communities, especially so if they are small and interactions among group users are frequent. Moreover, our game-theoretical analysis suggests that problems of the commons are not necessarily well depicted by the classic Prisoner's Dilemma. In actual fact, in many circumstances, co-ordination and leadership problems play a dominant role. In those eases, rural communities can effectively sustain co-operation even though users are numerous and do not interact frequently, provided that an effective authority structure exists to provide the required leadership and sufficient trust is established to countenance optimistic expectations regarding others' intended behaviour.

It is noteworthy that, if they lead to the same conclusion, these two strands of literature are grounded in different arguments or observations. While non-co-operative game theory suggests that purely decentralized (self-enforcing) and uncoordinated co-operation mechanisms are possible at (small) group level, socio-anthropologieal writings often bring to light collective arrangements that are backed by explicit rules of resource use as well as by formal and informal mechanisms to enforce them. Both contributions are clearly useful. By demonstrating that co operation is a possible outcome within the framework of repeated interactions in small groups, non-cooperative game theory contributes in establishing the viability of small groups operating as the basic units of more complex management systems. On the other hand, by showing that village communities or relatively large user groups can succeed in devising and enforcing rules for complex local-level resource systems, socio-anthropologists point to the possibility of federated structures resting on multiple layers of nested user groups.

When they make their pro-community diagnosis, social scientists do not necessarily ignore the important changes that have affected village societies during recent decades. As a matter of fact, some of them clearly state that, as resource scarcity increases, those societies will be able to organize themselves to co-ordinate and control more tightly the use of village CPRs. In other words, co-operation tends to evolve and develop spontaneously whenever the need arises to impose restraints on the use of such resources. There are two main problems with these assumptions. The first problem has already been touched on above and consists of imperfect information about the state of the resources and the link between current rates of resource appropriation and the level of the stock. The second problem arises from the fact that, in stark contrast to the pessimism conveyed by the tragedy of the commons' view, the difficulties of successful co-operation tend to be underestimated. It bears emphasis that the above two problems are especially acute where the environment changes quickly as it has done in all developing countries during recent decades under the impulse of rapid population growth and rapid commercialization of CPR products.

The threat posed by market integration is to be taken very seriously. In the social science literature, rapid depletion of natural resources by the private sector is often represented as the outcome of a collusion between state authorities and business interests at the expense of traditional user communities. There is a good deal of truth in this way of picturing the situation. Yet, the question cannot be bypassed as to why private interests necessarily destroy the resource instead of preserving it. One plausible answer lies in the deficiencies and uncertainties characterizing the contracts struck between the State and private concerns. In particular, the inability of the State in many developing countries credibly to commit itself to granting secure use rights to private actors creates a perverse incentive to misuse natural resources and to overexploit them rapidly.

Another plausible answer that is almost systematically ignored in the empirical literature is simply that the actors concerned rationally degrade the natural resources on which they have acquired property rights. This rational behaviour may follow from the fact that they have available to them a number of alternative, more attractive income opportunities or investment avenues (they have many exit options) in which they can usefully plough back the profits earned in CPR exploitation. Such behaviour may also be a direct consequence of the fact that future prices of the CPR products are highly uncertain.

Furthermore, the complexity of the market integration process ought not to be overlooked. The expansion of market forces is an all-pervasive process which affects all actors, including the rural communities themselves. This is evident from the fact that traditional elites and, sometimes, even ordinary members of such communities do not withstand the pressure of these forces and grant concessions or even sell out property rights over natural resources to business ventures such as logging companies. In other cases, rural dwellers eagerly respond to new market opportunities by quickly increasing extraction of CPR products without apparent regard for long-term resource conservation. And it is not possible realistically to account for all these frequent failures by pointing to insecure rights over the resource concerned. In a revealing manner, irrespective of the nature of such rights, local management appears to be most effective for resources that have a subsistence function and least effective for those that have a high commercial value. To make matters more complicated still, market integration yields indirect effects that tend to undermine the collective action potential of customary user groups: the enhanced mobility of the people and the questioning of traditional values and patterns of authority are particularly noticeable effects.

There is good ground to believe that, when poor people overexploit local natural resources in situations where they are perfectly aware of the ecological impact of their actions, it is often because they face hard subsistence constraints which lead them to discount streams of future incomes. This interpretation is actually borne out by the fact that they generally need externally provided economic incentives to be induced to conserve these resources. Sometimes, also, their heavy discounting of future income arises from profound changes brought in their intertemporal preference structure by the demonstration of new consumption possibilities following increased market integration.

Especially in view of the above changes and behavioural responses to them, if natural resources are to be protected against the risk of destruction, it is essential that the State provides a clear framework of basic rights, rules, and objectives to serve as a guideline for a voluntarist resource management policy. If market forces have to be tamed for the purpose of resource conservation, it is at the national level that protective measures must first be taken. Indeed, the hope cannot be realistically entertained that rural communities alone will always be able to impose on themselves rules of restraint in the midst of powerful market pressures.

Now, given the disastrous failures of most governmental attempts at managing natural resources down to the village level, it is essential that user groups be integrated in the national resource-preserving strategy. This implies that they are granted clear and secure rights over local-level resources as well as unambiguous responsibilities, including monitoring and sanctioning prerogatives; that the rationale of any rule set at a higher level is being properly explained to them; that there is enough room left for user groups to adapt these rules to local circumstances; and that there exist procedures to change them in the light of evolving experiences at grass-roots level. At least, this must be so whenever village communities or smaller social units retain enough coherence and stability to be an effective partner of the State. Mutual trust plays a critical role for achieving successful collective action at village level. This requirement tends to favour societies which have a long and well-established tradition of cooperation in varied sectors of life (for example, Japanese village communities since the feudal Edo period). However, pessimism about co-operation potential in societies which do not have such a tradition is not necessarily warranted. As a matter of fact, some significant successes in the field attest that trust can be created under the impulse of catalytic agents who are often coming from outside the community. These experiences tend to confirm social psychology experiments in which communication about a common challenge has been shown to have the effect of instilling into people feelings of collective identity and group belonging.

There is obviously a wide range of organizational forms of co-management that run, at one extreme, from the paternalistic or rather authoritarian South Korean model (in which users are integrated at a low level of the administrative machinery) to, at the other extreme, devolution of significant responsibilities and granting of genuine autonomy to local communities or user groups, as testified by the Japanese experience of fishery management or, more recently, by reafforestation schemes in West Bengal (India). Whatever the precise mode of partnership chosen, there is no doubt that in many countries state intervention has to be reshaped to institutionalize collaboration between administration and resource users. Given the deep-rooted 'culture of distrust' that permeates relationships between the State and local resource users, development projects initiated by local or foreign donor agencies can help not only to strengthen trust within user groups but also to gradually overcome the trust gap that exists between these groups and the state authorities.

As is evident from some of the above conclusions and as suggested by game theory, a wide variety of situations can actually occur. It is the task of the field researcher to determine which theoretical model best suits the specific situation encountered on the ground. To answer that question, he must figure out what are the relevant characteristics of the resource (its location, its degree of visibility, the relationship between its stock and human harvesting efforts, the nature of the infrastructure required as well as the techniques available to exploit it, etc.), of the users (their wealth endowment, their rate of time preference, their interest in the resource and their perception of that interest, the available exit opportunities, etc.), and the social structure to which they belong (the class structure of the community, the pattern of local authority, the social norms prevailing, etc.). The illustrations provided in this book serve only to direct attention to a number of important possibilities and the way they are related to specific game forms.

In fact, empirical research that meets the aforedescribed intellectual challenge is badly needed. Socio-anthropological studies, in spite of highly instructive accounts and insightful observations, often lack the kind of analytical tightness that is so useful to organize empirical data in a meaningful way and to derive correct policy lessons from case-study materials. They may also be permeated by a 'romantic bias' that results in too much confidence in the selfgoverning ability of user communities and in too negative assessments of state performances. Our hope is that the present work will be able to stimulate systematic applied research evincing both the empirical thoroughness of many socio-anthropological studies and the economists' concern for conceptual clarity and generalization possibilities. Here is indeed a research topic calling for serious interdisciplinary collaboration.

It is only when this challenge is met that we shall have a better understanding of whether and why rural dwellers deplete their local natural resources. In particular, what is the exact responsibility of the type of strategic interactions subsumed in the tragedy of the commons' model as compared with other potential explanations, such as lack of awareness or knowledge about ecological effects of human efforts, heavy discounting of future income streams, uncertainty regarding future prices of CPR products, uncertainty about future property rights, ambiguous impact of output price increases on conservation practices, availability of more attractive income opportunities? This question needs to receive precise answers if we want to define the most appropriate solutions to end situations in which the lot of future generations is dangerously threatened. And since the state of our knowledge is at present so imperfect, the reader should consider many of the above statements as tentative conclusions or, better, as research hypotheses that require to be put to serious test.