System-Wide Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi)

Addressing the challenges facing the rural poor in their efforts to carve out sustainable livelihood strategies necessitates greater understanding of the institutions (rules) and policies that govern their daily lives. Property rights and collective action play key roles in determining agricultural productivity and food security, access to natural resources critical to sustaining rural livelihoods, and the likelihood that resources will be available to meet future needs. Therefore, a deeper understanding of the nature and alternatives offered by these institutions is essential for developing effective solutions to combat poverty. Rules that govern claims to natural resources (property rights) and the means by which resources are managed by individuals or groups (collective action) play a key role in the livelihood strategies of the rural poor by shaping the productivity and sustainability of natural resources. Property rights specify the different types of claims one has to a resource by specifying what one can and cannot do and what one is entitled to. They determine long-term incentives to invest in, sustain, and improve resources. Certain types of property rights can serve as collateral for facilitating credit transactions. Depending on their distribution, property rights shape patterns of equality and inequality with respect to resource access.

The spatial scale of many natural resources and their accompanying technologies often mean that resources can be managed more effectively by groups of people. Examples are forests, rangelands, extensive waterways and irrigation systems. Aside from productivity considerations, collective action by multiple resource users can also enable a more equitable distribution of resource benefits. However, collective action also requires voluntary adherence to a common set of rules and coordinated contributions by its participants. The success of collective action will therefore depend on the incentives in place to evoke and sustain it.