Managing conflicts over land and natural resources through collective action

A case study from rural communities in Zambia

Seasonal changes and ambiguity in property rights over land and natural resources create conflicts in rural communities in eastern Zambia. This study describes how rural households have minimized such conflicts and protect the economic interests of the poor members of the community through collective agreements on how to manage access to land and natural resources. Specifically, this study describes and evaluates the formulation and implementation of bylaws governing the grazing of animals and the setting of bush fires. First, we describe the background of the social conflicts arising over land and natural resources and the collective agreements to reduce the conflicts, as well as the processes that led to the formulation of the agreements. Using a sample survey of 196 households, we conduct an ex post assessment of the perceived effectiveness of the bylaws, including planned and unplanned impacts of the bylaws. The study shows that collective agreements and dialogues provide important entry points to minimize conflicts over natural resources. Survey results reveal a remarkable increase in the perceived effectiveness of the bylaw on animal grazing over a five year period (from 16 to 46 percent of respondents describing it as “effective”), with a more modest change regarding the bylaw governing bush fires. A number of lessons and recommendations are drawn from the study: (1) collective action can be used to protect the interests of the poor members in the community (especially female-headed households) and raise their voices in matters that affect their livelihood; (2) collective action is not a panacea, especially where power structure is skewed; (3) ex post assessment of the outcomes of collective action is essential to understand planned (positive) and unplanned (negative) outcomes; (4) cultural practices are constantly changing over time and may become opportunities or constraints depending on how communities organize themselves to protect the interests of both the powerful and vulnerable groups.

Author: 
Clifford Ajayi, Oluyede
Akinnifesi, Festus Kehinde
Sileshi, Gudeta
Mn'gomba, Simon
Ajayi, Olubunmi Adeola
Kanjipite, Webstar
Ngulube, John Madalitso
Published date: 
2012
Publisher: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Series number: 
105
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