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13. Impact of the Wider Local Institutional Environment

If we take the wider institutional environment to include traditional communities’ believe systems and cosmology, it is important to mention that to differing degrees and in various forms, natural disasters are “assimilated” in reference to the supernatural. In Western culture and epistemology, this is commonly called “fatalism” and “fatalistic” interpretations of such events postulate that they are acts of God. Similarly, they may also be punishments for not abiding by the moral code of conduct enshrined in religious norms, and certain sacred scriptures such as, for example, the holy Qu’ran, contain several NRM recommendations and “taboos” (Messer 1993).

On the other hand, a different type of “mystification” or myth-making may occur when traditional communities are confronted, usually by government, with high tech solutions put forward by non-local experts. When the latter are trained in the natural sciences exclusively and do not possess any background in the social sciences, there is the danger of perpetrating a kind of technical assistance that may not prove sustainable; in particular, it may only lead to isolated and temporary results in that local people’s sense of helplessness without external resources is reinforced whilst the shock resilience of households’ existing coping strategies is further undermined[11]. This type of phenomenon has been documented as far back as in the early 1980s for the case of certain indigenous settlements in Central America such as those of the Indios in Peru’s flood-prone Rímac river valley (Medina 1994). A contributing factor there has also been the perceived financial and legal complexity of the DRM project frameworks, typical probably of the sometimes convoluted integrated rural development projects of the time.

At the macro-level, the institutional environment of official development assistance has until recently at best had a mixed impact on the institutionalisation of DRM. Although “pure” natural disasters tend to cause more casualties and damage than man-made or so-called complex emergencies (SIDA 1996), it is the latter that have dominated humanitarian budget priorities and funding, leaving DRM activities in natural disaster-prone countries largely underfunded. WFP (1998) drew as the first out of six lessons emerging from the past two decades of development assistance that “institutional divisions between humanitarian and development programmes result in the neglect of prevention activities” (p6). At the same time, crisis situations are often the (very visible) yardsticks by which government capabilities are judged by the general public as they subsequently become crucial, fiery items on the agenda of political campaigns and election rallies.

Documents outlining agricultural development policies should possibly include sections on emergency food aid distribution to avoid incidents like the one that occurred in Bangladesh, where a large organisation was accused of taking advantage of the 1998 floods to push in hybrids of rice as part of the relief packages (Pantoja 2002).

Within the formal institutional environment, the history of relationships between the polity, the government bureaucracy and the citizenry, and, in particular, organised civil society, is of particular importance for DRM. Prevailing attitudes and informal codes of conduct may or may not be conducive to mutual respect and reciprocal learning, a precondition to the fruitful utilisation of respective comparative advantages. Some NGOs feel that despite the typically greater convergence of views between government and civil society on pressing matters such as disasters, GO-NGO partnership in the true sense is neither feasible nor desirable: it may affect the important watchdog role of NGOs which counterbalances state power and keeps in place a system of “reality checks” and balances as envisaged under the concept of ‘good governance’. Luckily, the NGO sector is heterogeneous enough to include a myriad of different types of organisations; even in progressive India, for example, it is often thought that collaboration with government and advocacy vis-à-vis that same government cannot and should not go together.

Fighting drought in Morocco: Livestock and Pasture Development in the Eastern Region

In 1986 Morocco’s eastern region was withering from several consecutive years of drought, rangelands had been degraded and areas around water points overgrazed. Like elsewhere in North Africa, efforts to protect pastoralists’ livelihoods and environment had not been able to find a suitable delivery structure that took account of the complex social organisation of tribes, lineages and kinship groups. The IFAD-funded ‘Livestock and Pasture Development Project in the Eastern Region’ responded to this challenge; in order to build the consensus needed for group discipline in the use of available rangelands, the Project organises its activities around the formation of pastoralist cooperatives built on traditional ethnic lineages, a set up which gives modern democratic and legally sanctioned existence to tribal structures and ancestral rights to rangeland use. It promotes an array of hitherto unknown range management practices, and convinces herders, through adequate financial incentives, to sacrifice immediate economic gains for the sake of increasing the long-term productivity of their rangeland by reversing the trends of serious land degradation.

Several years of discussions and negotiations were necessary for the cooperatives to take form and decide on mutually agreed limits for their territories. Herders normally entitled to graze their flocks on lands that were rested for two years received collective compensation in the form of barley or concentrated feed. This had a strong psychological impact on herders: the offer of compensation was proof that the government had acknowledged their right to these rangelands. The cooperatives rather quickly assumed an active role, notably in the management of the "land resting" exercise. With guidance from the Project team, they created reserves - over various two-year periods - covering a total of 450 000 hectares of once degraded rangelands. Herders now willingly pay a grazing fee during the three or four months following the opening of each new reserve. This attitude reflects a sea change from herders’ previous stance, since grass had traditionally been considered a "gift from God". Plant cover has been re-established, and fodder production increased fivefold, the value of the latter exceeding the financial costs associated with the two year land resting by over 50%.

The cooperatives formed include virtually all sedentary, semi-nomadic and nomadic herders in a vast region covering over three million hectares. The significance of these achievements must be seen against the background of failed past efforts to establish cooperatives, which tended to be regarded as an unwelcome form of State intervention. But the major achievement lies in behavioural change, as land withdrawal, animal carrying regulations and the levying of user fees constitute nothing less than a revolution of a centuries-old practice inherited from ancestors. These new disciplines were not only unanimously accepted, but are also by and large respected - and this without expensive fencing of the rested land, which would not have been affordable on such a large scale of intervention. While the introduction of the cooperative concept has brought with it a good measure of modern management practices, representation and decision-making processes in the ethnic lineage cooperatives do not follow modern democratic principles, but traditional hierarchical structures, which make for an uncertain long-term outlook for the neediest herders.

Lessons Learned

  • The successful introduction of any large-scale grazing rotation system depends on a good understanding of the circumstances influencing access to rangelands and of the complex grazing patterns. In this case, it was assumed that cooperatives formed along ethnic lines would have control over specific areas, thus allowing coordination for systematic grazing. However, it was discovered that pastures in the project area had complex and multiple user rights.

  • The power of traditional hierarchies should not be underestimated.

  • The role of the state in organization and implementation should be less important than that of the beneficiaries themselves.

  • Appropriate land tenure legislation is crucial to range management.

  • Targeting the poorest requires careful design of project activities; associations tend to be dominated by richer members and institutions are reluctant to provide credit where they see a greater risk of default.

Source: various IFAD documents

[11] This is symptomatic of most DRM projects implemented until the 1990s, which favoured a technocratic top-down approach over a participatory focus on decreasing socio-economic vulnerability at household level.

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