A collaborative, participatory form of environmental sustainability and conservation based on an indigenous system of governance. The system's use allows for a decolonization of the regulation and management of the traditional lands of local, indigenous residents.
Problems and Purpose
The Ethiopian Qero management system, in use by the indigenous peoples for hundreds of years, was 'rediscovered' in 2005 and used as the basis for a collaborative and participatory form of environmental sustainability and conservation over the Gaussa-Menz grasslands. The use of the traditional system allowed local, indigenous populations to regain control over their traditional lands. The system builds off of longstanding traditional cultural practices, knowledge and ‘adapts’ them to the contemporary realities of the resource in question and the communities involved to create a less antagonistic, more inclusive, and effective environmental regulation. Since 2012, the indigenous management system has been recognized by the Ethiopian state and Ethiopian law, allowing the Committee to set significant legal and financial reparations for violations of indigenous environmental regulation.
Background History and Context
The Gaussa-Menz central highlands in Ethiopia, once subjected to the Astme Irist and Qero indigenous management systems, became subject to a socialist public land-tenure regime through the 1975 Agrarian Reform Act. This caused significant environmental degradation and inefficient local production rates. The new state-centred system bureaucratized land management by introducing nine farmers associations, resulting in corruption, open competition, and inefficient environmental regulation. Despite this, the Qero indigenous management system ‘modernized’ their governance structure under the title “the Guassa Conservation Council Committee.” There are now nine Kebeles (peasant associations) that elect representatives, each of whom is a local descendent of the Gero or Asbo, and the Committee is composed of the Kebeles, an elder women/man, a youth and women representative, and a spiritual leader. The inclusion of women in the indigenous management system is a significant shift that overcomes the longstanding 17th century practice of confining women to homesteads rather than out in the Gaussa-Menz. The Ethiopian government, in supporting the policy capacity of indigenous Gaussa communities to manage their grassland resources and environmental-animal biodiversity, implemented legal guarantees for indigenous management over the Guassa-Menz by the Conservation Council Committee in 2012. The region is now formally recognized as the Guassa-Menz Community Conservation Area. Following this, in 2013 these indigenous conservation efforts were recognized with the Mountain Protection Award and the UNDP Equator Prize. This model of IMS has become the norm for local environment regulatory practices in Ethiopia.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Committee membership has to be sensitive to local population demographics and traditional practices; it therefore cannot be comprised of ‘outside experts’ or centralized state government officials. It is, by definition, an indigenous led regulatory process informed by indigenous knowledge, customs, seasonal cycles, and membership. This does not mean that IMS are anti-state cooperation, as this was not the case in Ethiopia. Participant inclusion in IMS is based on the populations of the affected resource or biodiversity system in question; this also extends to the number of representatives and those who sit on the Committee.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The process by which representatives and Committee members are selected is through direct deliberation by everyone in the effected community – in the Guassa-Menz for example participation in matters concerning environmental governance is mandatory, it is seen as a duty as member of a community. All members of the community are expected to participate in the deliberative selection and regulatory discussion processes (ex, farmers need to report harvests to better determine end-season regulation).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
IMS in the case of the indigenous Qero and Asbo over the Gaussa-Menz grasslands in the Ethiopian highlands has resulted not only in formal state legal-policy recognition, but the creation of a quantifiably more effective environmental and resource regulatory and management system than was previously implemented at the state level (UNDP, 2012 and Ashenafi, 2016).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In the case of the Gaussa-Menz in Ethiopia, participation amongst those most affected – within an IMS framework – literally determined the management effectiveness of the Conservation Council Committee. Through IMS processes, those who would have been excluded from policy planning/implementation, or at best designated a subordinate role to experts and state officials, are given exclusive participatory control. The potentials for IMS in other geographic and political contexts in which indigenous voices are being marginalized from policy or there is an ineffective exclusionary environmental regulatory system, in Africa and beyond, is significant. However, the success of IMS also depends on the willingness of the state to relinquish forms of control and to formally increase policy capacities of local indigenous communities (through instruments like law).
The Ethiopian Qero Management System
Traditional Governance Systems
David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, Patterns of Commoning (Commons Strategy Group and Off the Commons Press, 2015).
Menz-Gaussa Community Conservation: National Resource Management Video, Equator Initiative (2014).
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Guassa-Menz Community Conservation Area: Local sustainable development solutions for people, nature, and resilient communities, Ethiopia” Equator Initiative Case Study Series (New York, 2012).
Zelealem Tefera Ashenafi, “The Resilience of an Indigenous Ethiopian Commons,” Counterpunch (October 2016).
Zelealem Tefera Ashenafi and Nigel Leader-Williams, “The Resilient Nature of Common Property Resource Management Systems: A Case Study from the Guassa Area of Menz, Ethiopia,” Assessed Online, October 30th 2016
Zelealem Tefera Ashenafi and Nigel Leader-Williams, “Indigenous Common Property Resource Management in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia,” Human Ecology, 33 (2005), pp. 539-563.
Zelealem Tefera, “Guassa Community Conservation: Sub-Saharas Oldest Community Conservation Area,” Afroplane Ecosystem Conservation Project.
Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority http://www.ewca.gov.et/
Lead image: UIAA https://goo.gl/NNY9Ct