Improving livelihood and natural resource sustainability by a combination of two systems

Property rights regimes in regard to forests and forestland are different from country to the other. In Europe for example are three different forest property right regimes at stake: the publicly owned forest (stakeholders are communes, universities, cities); the state owned forest (stakeholders are the state or the church); the private owned forest (stakeholders are private persons or corporate bodies). The latter is predominant for example in Germany and Denmark were 46.3 respectively 68.5% of the total forest land is privately owned (cf. Volz 2001, p. 51). On the opposite it “[…] is estimated that some 67% of total forestlands in Asia are claimed and controlled by governments, whereas only a total of 27% is designated for use or owned by local communities and indigenous people” (Dahal et. al. 2011, p. 1). Cambodia for example is covered by 10.09 million ha of forestland, whereas 8.17 million ha are state owned, 0.13 million ha owned by communities and indigenous groups, and 1.19 million ha are privately owned (cf. Dahal et. al. 2011, p. 7).

In the last quarter of the twentieth century only a few countries have faced more political harassment, political violence, and political as well as economic transformation then Cambodia. Between the years 1970 to 1998 the country was threatened by four governmental changes, two civil wars between 1970-1975 and 1979-1998, a genocide led by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979, an invasion and occupation by the army of Vietnam in 1979-1989, and finally one of the biggest UN peacekeeping missions between 1992-1993 which lead to the first democratic election in Cambodia in 1993 (cf. Chandler 1991; Kiernan 2002; Vickery 1999).

The economic transformations were no less radical than the political ones. During the Khmer Rouge regime, the ruling party tries to build a new collectivized peasant society without any foreign influences, currency, private property, and even without small-scale trading, market places, schools, and libraries (cf. Kiernan 1996, p. 8). After the Vietnamese invasion, the newly formed government of the People`s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) led by the Kampuchean People`s Revolutionary Party (KPRP) “[…] attempted to rebuild the Cambodian state, economy and society based upon an imposed […] version of Vietnamese-style socialism” (Hughes/Un 2011, pp. 1-2). By the end of the Cold War, the Vietnamese army withdrew from the country and Cambodia lost their key donor, the Soviet Union. The loss of the key donor was nearly directly compensated by Western donors, who entered the country alongside the UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) peacekeeping mission. During the process of transforming the country into a democratic regime, the KPRP renamed to Cambodian People`s Party (CPP) and gained the political power during a violent political conflict in 1997 and an “[…] dubious and highly contested victory in the 1998 election […]” (Hughes/Un 2011, p. 3). However, the CPP saw and took advantage of their opportunities and transformed the economy, based on the help of western donors, from socialism into neo-liberal capitalism. These transformations to a market economy led to the inclusion of Cambodia to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999 and to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2004 (cf. Baromey et. al. 2012, p. 15).

Since the UNTAC mission Cambodia makes through crucial economic changes. Hughe/Un (2011, p. 10) describes that this transformation “[…] represents a visible change in the level and nature of economic activities from the 1990s to the 2000s.” To illustrate this transformation Hughe/Un (cf. 2011, p. 10) provides several statistical key figures: average economic growth of 10% per year; the export volume has tripled; volume of foreign investments has significantly increased; and the poverty rate has decreased. Simultaneously the social inequality increased significantly. The United Nations Development Program for Cambodia pointed out that the Gini Coefficient has risen year by year from 0.35 in the year 1994 to 0.40 in 2004 and 0.43 in 2007 (cf. UNDP Online). This social inequality is growing especially within the rural areas where 90% of the poor people (cf. Van Acker 2010, p. 22) and 80% of the whole population live (cf. World Bank 2013).

For a majority of the rural population, agriculture and natural resources are the major source of livelihood. Although for the Cambodian economy, agriculture plays a key role for the development of the country. Following the statistics from the World Bank in the year 2011 agriculture made up 36.7% of the national GDP, whereas on the opposite the industry claims 23.5% (cf. World Bank 2013).

The rural poor are highly dependent on agriculture and natural resources and therefore they are also highly dependent on land property rights. As Ratner (2011, p. 1) points out: “For many of these households, access to these resources means the difference between an adequate diet and malnutrition; for others it represents the chance for a growing income, a means to invest in children`s education, and a route out of poverty.” Along with agricultural products the author talks about the importance of natural resources for food security and livelihood of the rural poor. Cambodia possesses the highest per capita endowment of arable land, water and freshwater fish as well as one of the highest endowments of forests in Asia (cf. Baromey 2012, p. 28). In addition to the agricultural products, natural resources in Cambodia play a significant role. The dependence from these resources of the rural poor increased in a heavily manner, since the Cambodian government prosecutes a politic of granting massive Economic Land Concessions (ELC) to companies who transfer the land into for example rubber or cashew plantations. Thus the rural poor “[…] becoming alienated from the land and therefore are more dependent than ever before on natural resources that are diminishing at an alarming rate” (Frieson/Pech 2010, p. 34).

The prime natural resources in Cambodia are forests and fishery products. The latter represents on the one hand the most important source for animal protein for Cambodian through a consumption of estimated 37kg per person per year. On the other hand the domestic fishery-industry is annually producing an amount of 590.000 tons of fish and other aquatic animals like shrimps, crabs etc. Therefore fishery products serve as a main food source and simultaneously as a main source of income and employment (cf. Van Acker 2010, p. 21).

The forest products are not less important than the fishery products. Chandran (2012, p. 1) points out that “[…] nearly half of Cambodia‘s rural households – more than five million people – rely on forest for 20-50 per cent of their livelihood. For another one million people, forest provides over half of their livelihoods.” It would be wrong to reduce forest products only to fuel wood, timber, poles, or stakes. These specific products are named as timber products. A further product classification refers to so-called Non-Timber Forest Products (NFTPs), which includes fruits, natural medicines, resins, fodder, or green manure. A third group of products refers to community or global benefit from forestry like shade, soil conservation, watershed protection, carbon sequestration, microclimate regulation, and biodiversity protection (cf. Place et. al 2004, Brief 5).

The questions at stake are: who should manage these resources and how should this management be organized? The Cambodian case provides several examples of practical applications of different forest resource management approaches: a nation-wide land concession system with ELCs and Social Land Concessions (SLCs) (cf. Chandran 2012), the systems of Community Forestry (CF) or Community Protected Areas (CPA) (cf. Brofeld et. al 2009), and traditional management systems (cf. Hornung/Vize 2013). Land concessions in Cambodia allow companies to use a defined land area in commercial ways, mostly within a timeframe of 99 years. The systems of CFs and CPAs are “[…] a form of decentralized forest management, where the responsibility of managing a forest area is delegated to a village of local community living in or near it, to ensure Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) by securing tenure of the land and user rights for the local community giving them an incentive to engage in long term (and ecologically sustainable) planning and protection of their forest resources” (Brofeldt et al. 2009, pp. 103-104). Traditional resource management systems in Cambodia can be characterized in two ways. There are on the one hand traditional forms of resource management cooperation centered on the pagodas: “They are based on the donations villagers give to a pagoda committee. In the first place, they provide for the monks´ food but are also used to repair the pagoda, establish rice banks, and give food and shelter to the most vulnerable villagers” (Weingart/ Kirk 2008, p. 4). In turn, the monks and influential villagers build specific associations, which deal with specific problems. In some reported cases forest associations were founded, to manage and protected the forest around the pagoda and the related villages (cf. Diepart 2013). On the other hand there are approximately 23 different indigenous ethnicities located in Cambodia. All these indigenous groups shared the concept of collective ownership of property, which means that they used their land collectively, among other things, as farmland. Hornung/Vize (2013, p. 6) pointed out that the “[…] concept of collective ownership is central to the identity of all indigenous peoples in Cambodia. Their beliefs, cultural systems, and ways of living are linked to the land. In a very real sense, land is culture for Cambodia’s indigenous people.”

Whereas CFs/CPAs and traditional systems are considered to be a sustainable way to manage resources and a good opportunity for the rural poor to improve their livelihood, the land concession system is characterized as a dangerous threat for natural resources and the rural population of Cambodia (cf. Frieson/Pech 2010, p. 38).

Apart from the fully government-controlled and -managed concession system, it is possible to classify the two other approaches as follows: 1) CFs/CPAs as top-down or so called co-management models implemented by the government and realized mostly by NGOs and local actors; 2) traditional systems as bottom-up models implemented by the rural or indigenous communities and also realized by them. Several studies have shown the efficiency of such bottom-up decentralized community-based natural resource management systems and the inefficiency of top-down government implemented natural based resource management systems (cf. Ostrom 1990). Ostrom and her colleges (cf. Ostrom 1990, chap. 3-5; Agrawal/Ostrom 2001) provides several examples of self-governed common managed resource arrangements in which the rules have been devised and modified by the resource users themselves and are also monitored and enforced by them. Resource users are more likely to adopt rules and restrictions given by them rather than by the government. If rules imposed by outsiders, like the government, people didn’t feel personally affected by them and may act heavily self-interested (Ostrom et. al. 1999, p. 281). Thus, several scholars argued that self-organized bottom-up resource management systems are more efficient than systems organized top-down by the government. Therefore, especially the top-down implemented CFs and CPAs raises interesting questions which should be answered in this thesis: Are the institutional arrangements crafted by the government able to deliver a community benefit? How robust are these schemes? Furthermore, which impacts weaken or strengthen the resource management schemes?

To answer these questions, this paper concentrates on the one hand on the “Theory of the Commons” outlined mainly by Elinor Ostrom (cf. 1990). This theory provides the researcher with a helpful tool to define important aspects of resource management systems and to analyze these systems within clear scientific boundaries. On the other hand, the framework of robustness in Social-Ecological Systems (SES) as sketched by Anderies/ Janssen/ Ostrom (cf. 2004) will be used. This framework offers a way to research the cooperation among the resource, the resource users, public infrastructure and public infrastructure providers. It offers a usable tool for analyzing the outcome of natural resource management systems in terms of establishing whether or not they are sustainable. Another reason to use this framework is the attempt to weaken a critique of Agrawal (2001, p. 1655) at Ostrom, who describe that the work of Ostrom “[…] pay only little attention [to] the external social, institutional, and physical environment.” With the link to external disturbances, the frameworks of robustness in SESs remark explicitly on issues like major political changes, demographic pressure, or social pressure through the increasing modernization.

This theoretical framework would be applied in an in-depth case-study of the CPA/CBET Community in Chambok commune, Phnom Sruich district, Kampong Speu province, Cambodia. The aim of this thesis is to explore which resources the local community uses, which internal regulations to manage the resources are at stake, which different actors are influential, and how robust the different systems are. To achieve these objectives, a number of semi-structured interviews with experts from local NGOs and unstructured interviews with villagers were conducted.

The following sections deals with the description of the theory of the commons, and the definition of the framework of robustness Social-Ecological Systems. But at first, we will outline the mainly used research methods.

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