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Pastoralists’ Governance of Common-Pool Resources: Working toward a Synthesis

Mark Moritz

The Ohio State University, USA

Pastoralists do not neatly fit the conventional model of the commons as mobility, flexibility, and adaptability results in systems without clear boundaries around the resource system and the user community. Recent studies have shown that many African pastoral systems are characterized by open access to common-pool grazing resources and that these systems are sustainable and resilient. In this paper, I will present a synthesis of three theoretical models – sovereign commons, complex mosaics, and open property regimes – that have recently been developed to describe and explain these pastoral property regimes.

Gouvernance des pasteurs sur les ressources communes: travailler vers une synthèse

Mark Moritz

The Ohio State University, États-Unis

Les pasteurs ne correspondent pas parfaitement au modèle conventionnel des biens communs, car la mobilité, la flexibilité et l’adaptabilité se traduisent par des systèmes sans limites claires autour du système de ressources et de la communauté des utilisateurs. Des études récentes ont montré que de nombreux systèmes pastoraux africains se caractérisent par un accès ouvert aux ressources de pâturage en commun et que ces systèmes sont durables et résilients. Dans cet article, je présenterai une synthèse de trois modèles théoriques – les biens communs souverains, les mosaïques complexes et les régimes de propriété ouverte – qui ont été récemment développés pour décrire et expliquer ces régimes de propriété pastorale.

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11 Responses

  1. Mark, this is a very nice entrée into these topics. Your “Multiple Dimensions” slide proposes 4 different axes (and I assume that these 4 are not meant to be an exhaustive list). It raises questions about the variations in pastoral governance regimes and to what extent these different dimensions or axes are independent of each other. Or is there some clustering? For example, are there pastoral systems with clear boundaries and flexible rules, and other systems with fuzzy boundaries but more strict/rigid rules? Or do fuzziness and flexibility normally go together? Multiply the above by each of the other dimensions and the result is a theoretically large range of possibilities, some of which seldom or never be seen in real life. Exploring how these different dimensions relate to each other should be a key question in the upcoming synthesis.

  2. Lance, I think you are asking the right questions about the multiple dimensions of property regimes. There are multiple sets of questions. The first set of questions aims to explain the variation for each dimension, for example, why are some property regimes more complex in terms of mosaic than others? The second set of questions aims to examine whether, how, and why these dimensions cluster, for example, is there a correlation between fuzziness and flexibility?

  3. thank you very much. i have a similar question. are there some generic lessons on desirables patterns and associations of variabilities or should we consider each arrangement as unique?

  4. The goal of our collaborative project is to describe and explain the variation in pastoral property regimes and use our model to develop general guidelines or principles for pastoralists’ governance of common-pool resources.

    I think it is important to consider the variation across pastoral property regimes. There is not one solution that works for all pastoral systems, but I also do not think that each case is unique.

    The question that I am unable to answer at this time is: what are these general guidelines or principles?

    Supporting pastoral mobility and access to grazing resources is critical and other principles should follow logically from that. After that, it becomes more complicated.

  5. Thank you Mark for an interesting presentation.

    Has there been an evolution of the open property regimes over time in some of the literature or case studies you have looked at?

  6. One of the goals of our collaborative efforts is to examine descriptions of historical change of governance of common-pool resources. There are a number of researchers that have extensively published on historical changes in governance and we plan to examine these works to look for patterns and develop our theoretical model. I am thinking of Carolyn Lesorogol’s work on the Samburu, Michael Bollig’s work on the Pokot, John Galaty’s work on the Maasai, and there are many more. The trick will be to get more historical cases that are not from Kenya or the Horn of Africa.

  7. In our ASOM research group (, we are also using agent-based modeling to examine how open property regimes can evolve into territorial systems (and back again). But we are still in the middle of the research project, so stay tuned for updates in the coming year(s).

  8. This is a really enlightening presentation of pastoral property regimes that nicely summarizes the types and determinants. Really like the idea of mosaics of property regimes.
    My question is about the Borana property regime you mentioned: According to my field experience, I haven’t seen any individuals own a well. They are usually owned by a community, or several communities. Individual households, however, have been claiming private patches of land for crop cultivation. Also, there is no clear cut between ‘village-owned common pastures’ and ‘open access distant pastures’. At least, the boundary is not clear. With population increase, ‘open access distant pastures’ are disappearing, which are becoming pastures shared by multiple neighboring communities.
    Another related question is: do you observe mosaic property regimes in your study area? Is it predominantly open regime, with some other types emerging?

  9. In my presentation I draw on the work of Lance Robinson, in particular his recent paper in the International Journal of the Commons, Open Property and Complex Mosaics: Variants in Tenure Regimes Across Pastoralist Social-Ecological Systems (2019) 13 (1):1-13. Of course, in my presentation I gave a simple representation of the Borana pastoral system that is much more complex, flexible, and fuzzy.

    I described ownerships of well as private property because I understood that it was owned by kin groups, rather than communities. But I defer to the experts.

    In the Far North Region of Cameroon, there is a mosaic of pastoral property regimes in that some watering points are privately-owned, and there are some small village pastures that are common property, but most of the bush is open property.

    Of course, it becomes much more complicated if you also consider the property regimes that govern farming and fishing resources in the Logone Floodplain (as has been described by Tobias Haller and colleagues). Pastoralists in the Chad Basin are not living in a world of just pastoralists and they share the landscape with farmers and fishers who have their own property regimes.

  10. Thanks for a fascinating presentation. I wonder how you see the difference between the concept of ‘open property regimes’ and the conept of ‘new commons’?

  11. That is a good question. The quick answer is that “new commons” is a form of a common property regime that has been transformed by governments and/or other organizations, whereas open property regimes are not the product of government interventions.

    In open property regimes, users have free and open access to common-pool resources, but in common property regimes – old and new – there are boundaries around the community and the resource system (although the boundaries may be fuzzy and flexible).

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