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The dynamics of livestock and rangelands under common property regimes

April 1992

Brent M. Swallow, International Livestock Centre for Africa
Nairobi, Kenya
Daniel W. Bromley, Anderson-Bascom Professor
Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Wisconsin Madison

Posted with permission of Professor Daniel Bromley and Brent Swallow
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Over 60 percent of the land area of sub-Saharan Africa is used primarily for the rearing of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels (FAO 1986). Most of the natural resources emanating from those rangelands are used collectively by a large number of individuals, households, and residential groups. Three economic models have been developed to depict resoure allocation in such situations:
  1. the open-access model,
  2. the corporate model of common property, and
  3. the coordination or assurance model of common property.
Gordon (1954) and Scott (1955) developed the open-access model to depict fisheries utilized by several anglers in the absence of institutional arrangements defining their resource-use patterns. Demsetz (1967), Hardin (1968) and others blurred the distinction between open access and common property until Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop's clear exposition of "common property as a social institution" in which property rights in resources are distributed among a number of owners who are "co-equal in their rights to use the resource (1975, p. 714)." More recent elaborations are found in Bromley (1989a, 1989b, 1991), Bromley and Cernea (1989), Larson and Bromley (1990), McCay and Acheson (1987) and a volume from the National Academy of Sciences (1986).

Several definitions of common property and common property regimes have been offered since 1975. We suggest here a definition that reflects the diversity of institutional arrangements and governance structures to be observed in the African rangeland context. In common property regimes, resource use is governed by diverse constellations of institutions -- rights, rules, and conventions -- that are enforced externally by a legitimate source of coercion, or internally by the actions of the resource users themselves. Indeed, some of these institutional arrangements are self-enforcing.

One fundamental difference between an open-access regime and a common-property regime is that a common property regime has a "boundary" that distinguishes between the "owners" and "non-owners" of particular benefit streams generated by collectively-used natural resources. Both the corporate model of common property and the coordination model of common property assume that there is a recognized group of resource owners whose rights to access and utilize particular resource benefit streams are protected by a legitimate unit of coercion that has the power to prevent encroachment by non-members. This structure provides the regime with the external legitimacy needed to differentiate it from an open-access resource.

Where the common property models differ is in their assumptions about the regime's internal institutional structure. The corporate model, as presented by Dasgupta and Heal (1979) and Dorfman (1974), assumes that the co-owners of the resource are able to devise explicit mechanisms for enforcing rules on resource access and allocation. The coordination model, or assurance model, offered by Runge (1981, 1986) proposes that there are certain conditions under which self-enforcing institutions are sufficient to support mutually-beneficial resource use.

We argue that these models are somewhat narrow and must be modified somewhat in their application to African rangeland regimes because they fail to account for the fluidity of the institutions, governance structures, production techniques, and environmental conditions that characterize those pastoral regimes. From our review of the theory and the empirical evidence on common property regimes, we suggest that much of the previous analysis has overlooked these internally enforced institutional arrangements. In this paper we suggest alternative formulations that account for the dynamics of African rangelands, the incentives and expectations of Africa livestock owners, the institutions governing the access and allocation of rangeland resources, and the systems of governance that define and enforce those institutions.

To understand the operations of African common property regimes, it is necessary to examine the decision-making of current and potential resource users. To that end, we develop a dynamic livestock-rangeland model that can be used to analyze the incentives, expectations, and conjectures of rangeland users under a variety of institutional arrangements. A conceptual model and a counterpart simulation model are presented. Two versions of the model are presented. The first version considers interactions between animals and rangeland when there is no human intervention. This formulation is appropriate for examining livestock/rangeland interactions in an uncontrolled environment such as the Serengeti plain of East Africa. The second version considers the livestock/rangeland interactions when there are a number of agents who own and manage the animals. This model is appropriate for examining a variety of institutional arrangements--rights, conventions, rules--that govern resource use in the common property regimes for African rangeland resources.

Before starting, we must note a limitation of this analysis. Specifically, the models used here implicitly accept the validity of the "succession" model of rangeland ecology. The results derived are thus most appropriate for "equilibrial systems" in which grasslands are dominated by perennial grasses and rainfall is relatively high and reliable. The models are less appropriate for "non-equilibrial systems" in which grasslands are dominated by annual species, and rainfall is low and erratic. A state-transition model would be more appropriate for non-equilibrium grazing systems (Behnke and Scoones 1991; Ellis and Swift 1989; Westoby et al. 1989).


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