International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development
November 1st 2010
Message from the Editorial Team
2009 Nobel Prize for Economics awarded to Elinor Ostrom for her work on “Governing the Commons” (1
Wind of (institutional) change
Message from the editorial team
Awarding the 2009 Nobel Prize for economy to the political scientist, Elinor Osrom is most encouraging and important, as it reinforces the main approach that we try to promote in our Newsletter. Martine helps us to explore the concept of “commons”. Yvon has been in a position to witness the community management of the Nepalese forest, which Ostrom quotes as an example, as a genuine success in terms of the preservation of the biosphere, while at the same time allowing local people to improve their living conditions.
As already mentioned in previous issues, the survival and promotion of small-scale local family farming is definitely a solution for feeding people and overcoming poverty for the majority of the poorest inhabitants of our world. Just to remind you, 70% of the one billion people who live in extreme poverty live in rural areas. Judith shares the positive developments within the Food and Agriculture Organisation agency of the United Nations (FAO).
The Editorial Team
2009 Nobel Prize for Economics awarded to Elinor Ostrom for her work on “Governing the Commons” (1)
This approach, which is central to all of Elinor Ostrom’s research is not mainstream, to say the least, or on the radar of the economists from the Chicago School of Economics (world leaders with the most Nobel Economics Prizes!). It may even be considered marginal according to the article by the renowned Garrett Hardin “The Tragedy of the Commons” (2) that deals with the dominant neo-classical paradigm!
The current pressure on natural resource management problems places the research of this 76 year-old woman at the heart of everyday preoccupations. Essentially her book examines the managing of common pool resources (CPRs), and shows that the way collective action operates does not follow the usual assumptions of economics (rationality and perfect information of the actors). In reality, actors make more appropriate choices in terms of collective gain, than those related to the predictions of rational choice theory. This is explained partly by the importance of face-to-face or personal relationships, which encourage mutual commitment, as well as by the actors’ capacity to innovate or adapt which allows them to increase collective gain by modifying some of the rules.
Her reflection has constantly evolved since the 60s, based on supporting evidence; it aims to escape the intellectual trap of the tragedy of the commons: starting with her thesis on water management in Southern California (1963), inshore fisheries in Turkey, irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines, and more recently, the exploitation of forests in Nepal (3). Elinor Ostrom and Amy Poteete have thus shown that regulation of the use of forests by local communities is strongly linked to
the attitude of local people vis-à-vis the forest resource;
the size of the forest, as it must be monitored;
the attitude of government agencies, which should not impede local efforts and provide institutions to facilitate the resolution of conflicts;
the attitude of political power towards lobby groups with antagonistic interests to the modes of forestry management;
the nature and size of interest groups (small sizes with homogeneous interests or large sizes with different interests).
Contrary to intuitive judgments, direct management by the communities does not always guarantee the preservation of the resource, but this type of institutional arrangement has a high probability of leading to sustainable management of forests.
“Instead of presuming that optimal institutional solutions can be designed easily and imposed at low cost by external authorities, I (Elinor Ostrom) argue that “getting the institutions right” is a difficult, time-consuming, conflict-invoking process. It is a process that requires reliable information about time and place variables as well as broad repertoire of culturally acceptable rules.”(4) “What is missing from the policy analyst’s tool kit – and from the set of accepted, well-developed theories of human organization – is an adequately specified theory of collective action whereby a group of principals can organize themselves voluntarily to retain the residuals of their own efforts.” (5)
“Examples of self-organized enterprises abound… But until a theoretical explanation – based on human choice – for self-organized and self-governed enterprises is fully developed and accepted, major policy decisions will continue to be undertaken with a presumption that individuals cannot organize themselves and always need to be organized by external authorities.” (6)
New collective regulations are possible.
To reduce the gap between current theories of collective action and empirical examples, “what is needed … is a somewhat different orientation toward the theoretical endeavor related to policy analysis.”(7) Rather than relying on the choices of individuals assumed to be capable of maximizing short-term but not long-term results, who are trapped in their dilemma and directed to governments as users of their programs, when in fact the decisions are taken with an idealized vision of the market or state. The change of vision which her analysis opens, gives consistency to the initiatives of individuals and their collective social inventions as “users … struggling to find workable and equitable solutions to difficult problems within arenas provided by courts, by legislative bodies, and by local authorities.”(8) This theory has now emerged from marginality. It is widely backed by empirical data. It opens a legitimate path that practitioners can implement. In the long term, a framework for documentation, the analysis and lessons learnt are needed to describe the added value of “good governance”, equipping, evaluating and anticipating the pursuit of a shared responsibility to all the territories. The local level needs to be rehabilitated to be valued at global level. The path which we will continue to follow consists of mutualizing the results of “I illustrate, I discuss, I propose”(9). We can walk this road with increased confidence. It is a safer way than “I know what’s best, therefore I’ll tell you what to do and you do it.” (10)
1. Ostrom, Elinor, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
2. Science, December 13, 1968, number 162, pp 1243-1268.
3. Poteete A.R., Jansen M.A, Ostrom E., Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice, Princeton U. Press, 2010
4. Ostrom, Elinor, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 14
5. Ostrom, Elinor, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 24-25
6. Ostrom, Elinor, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 25
7. Ostrom, Elinor, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 191
8. Ostrom, Elinor, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 216
9. This expression is specific to the format of the Lux’09 meetings, which we discussed in a previous issue.
10. Expression used by France Joubert, president of Pactes Locaux.
Wind of (institutional) change
With over 1 billion hungry people in the world, and 10,000 children dying daily of hunger-related illness, the question of what forms of local development can best feed people in a sustainable manner is one of the core issues the world needs to address.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is the dedicated United Nations Agency that has responsibility for this question. Until one year ago, the Committee for Food Security (CSF), one of the key bodies within the FAO, was limited exclusively to governmental representatives. The reform that was enacted in 2009, gives civil society as well as major businesses a consultative say in matters of food security. The ultimate say, through voting rights, remains with the governments.
The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”(1).
This is precisely where the debate between food sovereignty and food security is situated. The latter does not necessarily take things like the “green revolution” based on GMO-modified seeds, or Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPAs) with the ACP (Africa, Caribbean & Pacific) countries into account. The green revolution has a disastrous effect on small-scale farmers (who feed most of the world’s population), on as well as agricultural workers, nomadic pastoralists and landless rural populations; it pushes them off their lands and into the cities. Their traditional community-based agriculture, seed exchange and local food systems sit poorly with profit-hungry multinationals and neo-liberal governments. The system of EPAs also allows imports that are nothing but dumping of subsided factory-farm products that wipe out local agriculture and processing in many of the APC countries, again with the same results as the green revolution, pushing people off their land so that they can no longer feed either themselves or others.
This is why the concept of food sovereignty is a more far-reaching politically embedded concept. It is defined as follows: “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime, and directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers. Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal - fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just income to all peoples and the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage our lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations”(2).
This is where the extraordinary work of a range of civil society organisations has come together through the IPC (International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty)(3) and their remarkable work of lobbying the FAO. They have been at the core of working to develop the Civil Society Mechanism for the Civil Society Organisations that wish to have their voices heard in the reformed CSF (Committee for Food Security) of the FAO(4).
After a long year spent working on the details, a three-day meeting of Civil Society organisations took place in Rome last week (8th-10th October), organised by the IPC, and officially funded by those member states of the CSF that supported the reform. Three hard long days’ work it was too, to prepare for the first meeting of the reformed CSF that took place in Rome the following week. The first echoes that have filtered down are of how surprised most States were by the highly organised positions of civil society, their good sense and use that they made of the allotted slots.
So a wind of change is blowing in the FAO. Perhaps not enough to change as much or as fast as many would like, given the strength of the multinational corporations and those States that support an industrial profit-based approach to agriculture and food security that is neither local nor sustainable. But it is nevertheless a significant step forward for the voice of the real solutions to feeding the world and preserving a sustainable environment and local development.
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Special thanks to:
Paula Garuz Naval (Ireland) for the Spanish translation
Michel Colin (Brazil) for the Portuguese translation
Évéline Poirier (Canada) for proof-reading English and French versions
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