Common Property Resources and Livelihoods – A safety net for the poor

In poor countries, common property resources (CPR) play an important role in ensuring rural communities' long-term survival. CPRs are spread over agricultural, forest and water ecosystems. Much of the CPR well-being relationship hinges on the sustainability of the ecosystem. This ecosystem renders many services like:

  • Provisioning services in terms of the flow of consumable goods like food, freshwater, fuelwood, fibre and also biochemical and genetic resources;

  • Regulating services where the ecosystems purify the air, regulate the climatic factor, purify water etc;

  • Supporting services, essential to produce all other ecosystem services for example soil formation, nutrient cycling and primary production.

The poor traditionally depend on the provisioning services of ecosystems for food, water, manure, thatching material, leaves, grass and fiber. Many of these are used for making simple value-added items. In India, collection from commons is used to make handicrafts or even items of daily use by the rural communities like ropes, baskets, plates, bidis, cane seats and furniture, mats, bags etc.

Bamboo cultivation is one of the major CPR for livelihoods. In India, Bamboo is a non-wood forest resource found in the forest as well as non-forest areas. It is a fast-growing, low cost and renewable resource. According to the Botany Division, Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, eastern regions of India i.e., West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh are the main states producing bamboo with Tripura have 50% of the bamboo species.

There are various usages of bamboo which directly or indirectly contribute to livelihoods:

  • Threshing of paddy: West Bengal is one of the major producers of paddy in India. Paddy is generally threshed on a platform made of bamboo. The threshing process depends on the rice variety, the moisture content and the weight of the grain.

  • Water conservation: Drip irrigation, especially when applied 10–12 cm below the soil, can reduce water requirement. Bamboo pipes with small holes drilled in them and connected with the aid of cycle tyre tubes can be used for this purpose.

  • Bamboo baskets: These are used primarily for the preservation of seeds as they can withstand different weather. It is also sold in the rural “haats”(bazaars)

  • The Union government has modified the national bamboo mission to promote bamboo cultivation with West Bengal as one of the main bamboos growing states. On 08th April 2018, the proposal for a revised bamboo programme was made by former Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech, with an outlay of Rs1,290 crore.

Poverty and CPR linkage

A study by Dr Mriganka De Sarkar[1] shows that most of the areas depend upon shrinking common property resources. The variety and the quality of the products are declining. There is an invisible process of pauperisation due to this since the costs of production increases including the time of the people. The decline of the common property resources reflects the multiple dimensions of poverty.

The study further reflected that the fuelwood collection from CPR is the main medium for cooking media. Households especially mainly depend on the fuel-wood collected from the forest. The other sources which are used to cook food include dung cake, crop residue, dry leaf, kerosene.

The most important reason for using fuelwood is because of the distance between the village and the forest. Especially for the rainy season, there is a stock of fuel woods and dry leaf. The income from the CPR accounted for a major portion of their total income of the poor and non-poor households.

Issues in CPR management

Different methods for management of CPRs include privatization, state ownership, community management and participatory management. Studies have shown that before privatization, CPRs were well managed by informal management by the rural people, but after land reforms, there has been a rapid shrinkage in areas of CPRs since institutions are weak to manage the resources along with increasing human and livestock population. More than the physical scarcity of CPRs, the absence of a well-defined institutional framework to manage the resources is responsible for the depletion of resources[2].

Suggestions to improve the management of CPR

The CPR crisis can be averted through specific positive measures which will not only ensure retention of the present CPR resources but also its regeneration, development and sustainable use of CPR. Efforts must be made to restrict the curtailment of CPR. There must be a strict government policy for the retention of CPR which is absent at the moment. Public welfare and development programmes should be intended to improve resource productivity. The usage of alternative fuels like biogas and other biofuels must be popularized and made accessible and affordable to rural consumers.

The rural households must be convinced about the sustainable utilisation of CPR so that it can inspire people to protect and regenerate them as it is a question of their livelihoods aka their survival in some instances.

These suggestions are easier said than done however their implementation will ensure the sustainability of CPR and avert the tragedy of commons.

[1] Dr.Mriganka De Sarkar (2016), “Poverty and the Common Property Resource: The Inter-linkage”, The Academic Journal of Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration, Vol. I (1), pp. 45-69, 2016.

[2] Tony Beck, Madan G. Ghosh (2000), “Common Property Resources and the Poor: Findings from West Bengal”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Jan. 15-21, 2000), p. 147-153.

About the Author

A XIM, Bhubaneswar, Rural Management Graduate, Arunish is presently working as a Manager (Knowledge centre) at NuSocia, a CSR advisory firm (incubated at IIM Bangalore, NSRCEL) and has been their founding employee. He is an avid book reader especially on books related to developmental economics, livelihoods, public policy and wonders how qualitative research can be leveraged to capture the stories of transformation and change in rurban India.