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Topic Guide: Governance of natural resources

Author: Nunan, F.
Year: 2016
Pages: 57 pp.
Document Type(s): PDF 1.0MB 
Summary:

Renewable natural resources form a key part of economic and social systems in many developing countries, contributing to livelihoods, food security and the green economy, as well as generating trade and enterprise at local, national and international levels. The governance of these resources is complex, with a myriad of competing rights, users and governance structures across a broad range of temporal and geographical scales. Several dimensions of governance have been found to be key in delivering appropriate benefit-sharing, ensuring sustainable exploitation, minimising conflict over access and control, and maximising the contribution of these resources to economies.

In this Topic Guide these critical aspects of natural resource governance are examined, to help guide practitioners on how to approach this complexity. Following an introductory section on ‘Why governance of natural resources?’ Section 2 shares essential lesson-learning from Decentralised and collaborative natural resource governance. Decentralised forms of natural resource governance are widespread but face challenges associated with power sharing, participation and accountability. Financial assistance for the creation and operation of natural resource governance structures is essential over many years, as is strong, appropriate support by central government through legislation and technical support. ‘Bridging’ organisations, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), can be helpful in the formation process by building trust between government and resource users, as well as by reducing the potential for capture of community-based structures by those with more power and wealth.

In Section 3 Multi-level and adaptive governance, the guide provides an overview of the governance landscape of renewable natural resources. Many natural resources provide multiple benefits – drinking water, irrigation, fish, for example – and cross administrative boundaries. Decision-making happens at multiple levels and by different actors, including different parts of government. Yet, governance is often fragmented, with little coordination and cooperation. Mechanisms and resources are needed to support this coordination and sharing of information and plans. Linked structures are often formed at different levels, in the forestry and fisheries sectors, for example, connecting groups at village, district and national levels. Attention should be given to how user groups are represented in such systems, including by occupation, ethnicity, age and gender, as well as to directions and forms of accountability, and resource and information sharing. Mechanisms to develop horizontal linkages between natural resource governance structures (e.g. user groups) and local government can prevent compartmentalisation and the creation of silos.

Section 3 also considers how to respond to change, and how natural resource governance approaches need to be able to adapt to accommodate a fluid landscape, be it political, ecological or social. This section also reflects on how interventions need to be refined as the understanding and evidence base builds around particular natural resources and the systems that they support. Support for designing and implementing systems to collect, share and use information can enable a more flexible, adaptive approach to governance, where actors are able to make decisions in a more informed, timely and effective way. Social learning approaches – where learning takes place beyond the individual, within groups and in the wider society – can help people to learn lessons from practice and cope better with uncertainty and change.

Section 4 looks at the role of Institutions and politics in the governance of natural resources. Politics is of course integral to natural resource governance, affecting who is involved, who benefits and who stands to lose. The institutional contexts of decision-making and livelihoods associated with renewable natural resources are complex, with informal institutions interacting with formal structures and policies. Mapping institutional context through political economy analysis and ‘thinking and working politically’ will generate understanding of interests, power and opportunities for change. A gendered perspective is essential if initiatives are to encourage the development of equitable and inclusive governance systems.

Citation: Nunan, F. Topic Guide: Governance of natural resources. Evidence on Demand, UK (2016) vi + 49 pp. [DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12774/eod_tg.july2016.nunanf ]
Document Status: Peer Reviewed
Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.12774/eod_tg.july2016.nunanf
Donor: DFID
Category: Environment, Livelihoods, Topic Guides
Keywords: decentralization, governance, institutions, livelihoods, politics, renewable natural resources