Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Resource degradation in the African commons: accounting for institutional decay


The development literature has devoted considerable attention to the commons and has ignored the wider economic context of the commons. I develop a model of two kinds of agents (naïve and sophisticated) using two kinds of assets (safe and unsafe) to illustrate the possibility of resource degradation in the commons in the absence of free riding, shirking, and general theft among members of the village and its associated commons. This model makes it possible to understand that degradation of the commons arises from factors outside of the commons rather than arising from ‘perverse’ property rights and selfish behavior within the commons. This approach suggests a needed reformulation of development assistance away from prescriptions for the commons. Instead, development assistance must be refocused on the more serious challenge of institutional incoherence in the larger economy of which the village and its commons are but a part.

Hide All
Atwood D.A. (1990), ‘Land registration in Africa: the impact on agricultural production’, World Development 18: 659671.
Bigsten A. (2002), ‘Can Africa catch up?’, World Economics 3: 1733.
Bromley D.W. (1989a), Economic Interests and Institutions: The Conceptual Foundations of Public Policy, Oxford: Blackwell.
Bromley D.W. (1989b), ‘Property relations and economic development: the other land reform’, World Development 17: 867877.
Bromley D.W. (1991), Environment and Economy: Property Rights and Public Policy, Oxford: Blackwell.
Bromley D.W. (1992), ‘The commons, common property, and environmental policy’, Environmental and Resource Economics 2: 117.
Bromley D.W. (2006), Sufficient Reason: Volitional Pragmatism and the Meaning of Economic Institutions, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bromley D.W. and Chavas J.-P. (1989), ‘On risk, transactions, and economic development in the semi-arid tropics’, Economic Development and Cultural Change 37: 719736.
Bromley D.W., Feeny D., McKean M.A., Peters P., Gilles J., Oakerson R., Runge C.F. and Thomson J. (eds) (1992), Making the Commons Work: Theory, Practice, and Policy, San Francisco: ICS Press.
Carter M. and Olinto P. (2003), ‘Getting institutions right for whom: credit constraints and the impact of property rights on the quantity and composition of investment’, American Journal of Agricultural Economics 85: 173186.
de Janvry A., Platteau J.-P., Gordillo G. and Sadoulet E. (2001), ‘Access to land and land policy reforms’, in de Janvry A., Gordillo G., Platteau J.-P. and Sadoulet E. (eds), Access to Land, Rural Poverty, and Public Action, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 126.
De Long J. Bradford, Schleifer A., Summers L.H., and Waldmann R.J. (1990), ‘Noise trader risk in financial markets’, Journal of Political Economy 98: 703738.
de Soto H. (2000), The Mystery of Capital, New York: Basic Books.
Deininger K. (2003), Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction, Washington, DC: World Bank.
Deininger K. and Feder G. (2001), ‘Land institutions and land markets’, in Gardner B. and Rausser G. (eds), Handbook of Agricultural Economics, Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 288331.
Easterly W. and Levine R. (1997), ‘Africa's growth tragedy’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics 112: 12031250.
Feder G. and Onchan T. (1987), ‘Land ownership security and farm investment in Thailand’, American Journal of Agricultural Economics 69: 311320.
Fitzpatrick D. (2005), ‘“Best Practice” options for the legal recognition of customary tenure’, Development and Change 36: 449475.
Hardin G. (1968), ‘The tragedy of the commons’, Science 162: 12431248.
Larson B.A. and Bromley D.W. (1990), ‘Property rights, externalities, and resource degradation: locating the tragedy’, Journal of Development Economics 33: 235262.
Lund C. (2000), ‘African land tenure: questioning basic assumptions’, London: IIED, Drylands Issue Paper E100.
Migot-Adholla S., Hazell P., Blarel B., and Place F. (1991), ‘Indigenous land rights in sub-Saharan Africa: a constraint on productivity?’, The World Bank Economic Review 5: 155175.
Ndulu B. and O'Connell S. A. (1999), ‘Governance and growth in sub-Saharan Africa’, Journal of Economic Perspectives 13: 4166.
Ouedraogo R.S., Sawadogo J.-P., Stamm V., and Thombiano T. (1996), ‘Tenure, agricultural practices and land productivity in Burkina Faso: some recent results’, Land Use Policy 13: 229232.
Palomino F. (1996), ‘Noise trading in small markets’, Journal of Finance 51: 15371550.
Place F. and Hazell P. (1993), ‘Productivity effects of indigenous land tenure systems in sub-Saharan Africa’, American Journal of Agricultural Economics 75: 1019, February.
Place F. and Otsuka K. (2001), ‘Population, tenure, and natural resource management: the case of customary land area in Malawi’, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 41: 1332.
Platteau J.-P. (1996), ‘The evolutionary theory of land rights as applied to sub-Saharan Africa: a critical assessment’, Development and Change 27: 2986.
Pritchett L. (1997), ‘Divergence, big time’, Journal of Economic Perspectives 11: 317.
Sender J. (1999), ‘Africa's economic performance: limitations of the current consensus’, Journal of Economic Perspectives 13: 89114.
Sjaastad E. and Bromley D.W. (1997), ‘Indigenous land rights in sub-Saharan Africa: appropriation, security and investment demand’, World Development 25: 549562.
Sjaastad E. and Bromley D.W. (2000), ‘The prejudices of property rights: on individualism, specificity, and security in property regimes’, Development Policy Review 18: 365389.
Tiffen M. (2003), ‘Transition in sub-Saharan Africa: agriculture, urbanization and income growth’, World Development 31: 13431366.
WDI (World Development Indicators) (2006), Washington, DC: World Bank.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Environment and Development Economics
  • ISSN: 1355-770X
  • EISSN: 1469-4395
  • URL: /core/journals/environment-and-development-economics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 14 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 63 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.