Heterogeneity on the commons: An analysis of use and management of common forests in Himachal Pradesh, India
Community-based natural resource management has become immensely popular among some policy makers on the assumption that involvement of local communities can achieve conservation goals with greater efficiency and equity. However, the community is quite often conceived of as an undifferentiated whole. Given that diverse groups may exist within a community, with heterogeneous interests, abilities, incentives, and social affiliations, such a conception is problematic. This dissertation empirically investigates the effects of heterogeneity on use and management of common forests.
This dissertation conducts a meso-level study of heterogeneity using the 'community' as the unit of analysis. The data are derived from fieldwork conducted in the middle Himalayan ranges of Himachal Pradesh, India in 2004. During this fieldwork, survey data were collected in 54 forest communities. This method contrasts with the usual practice of examining individual motivations or conducting a cross-section country-level study.
There are two key findings. First, three dimensions of heterogeneity affect collective management of forests: heterogeneity in wealth, social groups and incentives. However, these effects are complex and non-linear. The empirical results suggest that both social and wealth heterogeneity have a non-monotonic relationship with cooperation. In addition, heterogeneity in incentives decreases cooperation conditional on the presence of wealth heterogeneity. These results imply that cooperation does not depend on social parochialism, very high levels of wealth heterogeneity reduce cooperation, and a divergence between wealth and incentive to cooperate decreases the level of collective management.
Second, forest use is affected by heterogeneity as well. The sampled communities have access to forests that are common property, in that rights of use are vested with the community and not the individual. This means that all individuals in the community should be able to use the forest to the same degree. However, on investigating the effect of heterogeneity in forest use, the dissertation finds that wealth heterogeneity increases whereas social heterogeneity decreases the extent of forest use even after controlling for market related factors. The results therefore, suggest that the social structure of the community plays an important role in determining both the degree of cooperation and extent of forest use at the community level.
0503: Agricultural economics