Environment & Poverty Times No. 5

Right to access

By Marianne Fernagut, GRID-Arendal

Access to land and natural resources is the premise for all ecosystem uses providing livelihoods, shelter and social safety – from farming to fishing, from berry picking to mining.

Sustainable use of natural resources requires clear and enforced access or property rights. These rights provide incentives for long-term investments and sound management of the resources. Increased local control of natural resources motivates long-term investments and favours management accountability and performance.

Fallow fields, forests, fishing grounds, pasturelands and wetlands are often common property. Common pool natural resources imply open access to virtually anyone and that it is not easy to exclude users. However, common pool natural resources cannot be used endlessly. Non-excludability tends to be an incentive to overuse a resource to improve individual welfare without bearing the costs.

The rural poor, whose lives are intricately linked with local ecosystems, are positioned to be most affected by how access and property rights are defined and realized. For these people, common pool natural resources are an important source of food, fodder, fuel, building materials, medicinal plants, and income. In India, it has been estimated that common property natural resources provide about 12 per cent of household income to poor households. In general, the poorer the household, the more important is the income contribution through common property resources. In addition some natural resources, like water or marine fisheries, are mobile and diffuse so that property rights are difficult, if not impossible to attribute.

Rural poverty is strongly associated with poor access to land either through landlessness or because of insecure and contested land rights. Pressure on land is set to increase over future decades, given the impacts of continued population growth, globalization of markets and activities, trade negotiations and climate change. As a resource becomes scarcer and more valuable, those with weak rights to access this resource will tend to lose out. In the case of land, particular groups tend to be more vulnerable to such dispossession, including the poor and those relying on common property resources.

Secure property rights are important for sustainable economic growth. Protecting and expanding the rights to access natural resources which are of particular importance to the poor is therefore an important way to support growth that benefits the poor.

Mapping communities

World Poverty Distribution

This map shows a logging concession and an area traditionally used by a community in Bandundu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There is overlap between the logging concession area used by a timber company and the area that villagers use for hunting, fishing, farming and timber exploitation, and also has a sacred site.

A community mapping project in eastern DRC, implemented by the non-governmental organization OCEAN, provides forest communities – including pygmy communities – with the know-how and technology to produce accurate geo-referenced maps of their villages and land and forest use. These maps provide a tool for the communities to negotiate with the government, logging companies and other groups who may be interested in using the community’s forest.

Source: www.dfid.gov.uk/countries/africa/congo-Growth.asp

“Roots of Resilience”

World Resources 2008: Roots of Resilience – Growing the Wealth of the Poor (WRR 2008) is the 12th volume in the World Resources Report series published jointly since 1984 by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the World Resources Institute (WRI).

WRR 2008 argues that properly designed enterprises that address the reality of the poor – that almost half the world’s population lives on less than USD 2 per day and that some 75 per cent of them, almost 2 billion, live in rural areas largely dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods – can improve those livelihoods and, in the process, create resilience – economic, social, environmental – that can cushion the impacts of climate change, can keep communities rooted, and can help provide needed social stability.

The report builds on World Resources 2005: The Wealth of the Poor that showed that ecosystems can become the focus of a powerful model for nature-based enterprise that delivers continuing economic and social benefits to the poor, even as it sustains the natural resource base. Evidence shows that poor rural families empowered with secure resource rights can increase their income stream from nature significantly with prudent ecosystem management.

WRR 2008 explores what is necessary to allow such nature-based enterprises to scale-up so as to have greater impact – geographically, economically, politically. It identifies three critical elements: community ownership and self-interest; the role of intermediate organizations (in providing skills and capacity); and the importance of networks – formal and informal – as support and learning structures. It outlines specific actions that governments at all levels can take to encourage and support such change.

When these three elements are present, communities can begin to unlock the wealth potential of ecosystems in ways that actually reach the poor. In doing so they build a base of competencies that extends beyond nature-based enterprises and supports rural economic growth in general, including the gradual transition beyond reliance on natural resource income alone.

They also acquire greater resilience. It is the new capacities that community members gain – how to conduct a successful business, how to undertake community-based projects, and how to build functional and inclusive institutions – that give rise to greater social and economic resilience. It is the insight that ecosystems are valuable assets that can be owned and managed for sustained benefits that builds the foundation of ecological resilience. Together, these three dimensions of resilience support the kind of rural development whose benefits persist in the face of a wide variety of challenges, environmental and otherwise, that poor communities are sure to face in the future.

WRR 2008 illustrates its thesis with detailed case studies of successful enterprises: The transformation of a desert landscape in Niger; the restoration of freshwater fisheries in Bangladesh; and the role of community-managed forest concessions in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve.