Sourcebook offers practical guidance on property rights and collective action for resource management

January 10, 2011

Effective cooperation and secure property rights play key roles in improving agricultural productivity, food security, and rural livelihoods. They can also help to ensure that resources are available to meet future needs. All too often, however, their application evades the communities who stand to benefit most. A new book sets out to provide practical guidance that local groups and development agencies can use in enabling marginalized people to effectively and sustainably access and manage the farmland, forests, and water on which they rely.

Titled Resources, Rights, and Cooperation: A Sourcebook on Property Rights and Collective Action, the guide is the result of work by the Systemwide Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi), an inter-disciplinary program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research that is hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and coordinated by Ruth Meinzen-Dick, a senior research fellow at IFPRI.

“Basically, all natural resource management involves collective action, property rights, or both,” says Meinzen-Dick. “For example, in an irrigation program, if you haven’t given farmers rights over the water, then they don’t have the incentive to invest in improving the system.”

The book does not prescribe a single property rights regime, however. Rather, it discusses various approaches already in existence—some statutory and others customary—in hopes of providing readers with alternatives from which they can tailor solutions to fit their needs and circumstances.

Likewise, it examines efforts ranging from community-based watershed management to producer marketing groups to identify the factors that make some collective action programs effective while others have little impact.

”The understanding generated by collaborative research is too important to be left to researchers alone,” says Nobel economics laureate Elinor Ostrom. “What we need are clear ways to relate the insights from research to the experiences of development practitioners,” she writes in her foreword to the volume.

The book draws on the findings of research papers and case studies from around the world, and makes them accessible to non-specialists, using straightforward language and cartoons to illustrate key points. “We wanted something that could be used in training courses for government or NGO staff, or students at universities, to give them an understanding of how important these issues are,” Meinzen-Dick said. The volume also includes a CD with printable posters and in-depth materials, allowing interested readers to delve further into specific topics.

The book is available at