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Collective action in water-point management: The case of pastoral and agropastoral communities in eastern Ethiopia

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This paper explores collective activities in water-point management by pastoral and agropastoral herders. It examines conditions that strengthen or weaken cooperative behaviour. By employing a comparative case study approach, the paper covers three types of water-points: ponds, cisterns and water wells. Results show that factors beyond the expectation of economic benefits influence the development of cooperative behaviour, including embedded social relationships, which provide a basis for sanctions. However, the absence of clear allocation rules and of secure property rights discourages sustained contribution of inputs. The study also finds that the contribution, and the ultimate benefits gained, by the members of the group are dependent on limited technological options and other attributes of the water-points they manage. Interestingly, divergence of interests (between economic elites and poor herders) in institutional change precluding the establishment of cisterns negatively affects the livelihoods of the poor (agro) pastoralists. Where internal capacity is limited, assisted collective action that builds on diverse local interests could contribute to sustainable management of collectively used water-points. The study concludes that both economic incentives and socio-cultural norms affect collective action in a more complex way than the theory of determinants of collective action predicts.
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Keywords: Collective action; Common property; Pastoral and agropastoral communities; Water-point management

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 August 2009

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