Sunday, September 18, 2022

Success on the commons

Last year Environmental History published a review by Frederica Bowcutt of Mexico’s Community Forest Enterprises: Success on the Commons and the Seeds of a Good Anthropocene, by David Barton Bray (U. Arizona Press, 2020). Some excerpts:

According to Bray, Garrett Hardin justified enclosure and centralized land management based on an ahistorical understanding; shared-pool commons have always been regulated by rules to prevent overuse. They are not, as Hardin suggested, a free for all. Ownership of land with valuable forest resources incentivizes rural Mexican communities to adopt, develop, and adhere to rules designed to prevent a tragedy of the commons. Results thus far indicate that community-based management of local forest resources “can be as effective as public protected areas in conserving forest cover and biodiversity, while also generating income for local communities” (p. 246).


Although most of the early collectives failed, reforms designed during the 1970s in part to pacify rural uprisings laid a stronger foundation for CFEs. “With state policy support,” forest communities focused on rural economic development less encumbered by “the deleterious impacts of global capitalism” and better able “to engage with national markets in Mexico without being exploited” (pp. 28–29). Bray uses various social theories to analyze his observations. Much attention is given to common property theory, which Bray extends “to include state policies, market incentives, the five capitals, and the role of communities with rights over a territory” (p. 25). The five capitals are defined as “financial, physical, human, social, and natural” (p. 18). Although property rights are critical to success, some Mexican CFEs fail when institutional and organizational support fails, which in turn can lead to “elite capture, corruption, violence, and organized crime” (p. 124).


According to Bray, “Mexican community forestry … [has become] a global model for sustainable landscapes, environmental justice, and climate change mitigation in developing countries” (p. 5). Mexico’s successes also offer lessons for the developed regions of the world. In the United States, Indigenous peoples seeking to reestablish their traditional ecological management practices will find many useful ideas in this book. Community-controlled forest reserves may very well be an important economic driver in poor rural areas, including in North America during a period of unprecedented changes, an opportunity knocking in the Anthropocene. 

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