April 24, 2010

Cross-property management: Nobel prize winner advice

I spent 2009 interviewing farmers and leaders of NGO's in Namibia about their efforts to set up 'conservancies'. These entities are groups of landowners who come together to manage their properties jointly. For some groups, it may simply be allowing hunters from one farm to hunt on another farm. For other groups, it may be conducting a joint marketing effort to bring hunters to their group.

But, many group members join a group to 'do management' for wildlife on a landscape scale beyond their individual property. Could be purchasing animals to stock for the benefit of the group. Could be an effort to bring various types of habitat together under one management scheme. Could be an effort to get rid of invasive plant species (doesn't do you any good to get rid of your thistles if your neighbor doesn't, right?!).

Namibia is ahead of the US in the country-wide implementation of conservancies...check out the Conservancy Association of Namibia to see a map.

But, many landowners in the US are starting to work on similar projects. The question is...how to you set these things up? How do individuals successfully make decisions about resources that are held in common?

In Namibia, wildlife can be owned by individuals, but in the US, wildlife is 'common' property of all people in each state. And, even in Namibia, when you join together with your neighbor, you have just created a 'commons'. Commons are quite hard to manage (think: "Tragedy of the Commons" by Garrett Hardin; think: why most of our marine fisheries resources are a case study in failure of such attempts to manage common property). One conservancy president in Namibia told me, "This conservancy thing is hard work, because you are managing people."

Well, there is some guidance to how to think about proper management of commons (how to manage the people managing the commons). Thanks to my colleague Drew Tyre for finding this information. And, the advice comes from a Nobel Prize winner, Elinor Ostrom (2009 prize for Economics).

These suggestions certainly should be at the forefront of any conversation between a group of landowners considering the creating of a conservancy-type arrangement. During my stint in Namibia, I heard each idea mentioned at least once, but they are struggling with the 'dispute resolution' portions of this list. But, successful Namibian conservancies adhere to the majority of these suggestions:

Define clear group boundaries.

Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.

Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.

Make sure the rulemaking rights of community members are respected by outside

Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.

Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.

Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.

Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.

Citation: This list was adapted for
America: The Remix, the Spring 2010 issue of YES! Magazine, from Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, edited by Elinor Ostrom, 1990.


  1. Nice connection - I hadn't thought about that during your talk last week, but makes an interesting structure for thinking about these sorts of enterprises. I'm wondering if it helps to have clearly identifiable "common goods" - wildlife in the Namibian case. On the Missouri the different groups involved obtain different resources from the river, so there isn't an obvious "common good".

  2. it will be like giving away your land. But for the purpose of making your land bigger as well. This is a good strategy, yes. And I believe this entails trust, teamwork, a system and like what Drew said, maybe it should also give a "common good" to both parties.

  3. That's actually a great tactic. It will make your land bigger in no time. Just a good teamwork and organization and you'll succeed. That's like a win-win situation.

    property management

  4. Good subject to discuss.These suggestions will really helpful for farmers. I like your suggestion"
    Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system."Thanks for sharing.

  5. My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally right. This post truly made my day. You cannot imagine just how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  6. In USA wildlife is a common property for all people in each state but in Namibia wildlife can be owned by individuals!! Why??

  7. Namibia used the private ownership of wildlife to give value to wildlife. In the 1950's through 1970's, cattle farmers were removing wildlife (large ungulates) because they competed with their cattle and had no value. By allowing farmers to sell animals, meat and products, the wildlife had value, and farmers stopped removing them from their farms. It was a specific response to a specific problem in that country. The US has a different history with market hunting, which resulted in our laws to remove private ownership of wildlife.

  8. This kind of information helps people a lot to increase their knowledge...Thanks for providing useful information

  9. In Namibia, wildlife can be owned by individuals, I don't understand why? Please write more on this matter.Thanks

  10. According to me USA is very advance than Namibia. I think this is the main reason that's why wildlife is common property in USA but not in Namibia. Am i right?

  11. @Real Estate: Namibia is a young country (independence in 1990), but I don't think that is the reason for the difference. In my opinion, the difference stems from two countries dealing with the issue from their own circumstances. The US had two main forces in its history: we wanted to have wildlife be accessible to the common person (not like England's "King's Forests"), and we had a bad experience with market hunting during the settlement of the western US (the bison were almost eliminated, and passenger pigeons were taken to extinction by market hunters). So, the system we settled on was our current system of common ownership by inhabitants of states. Namibia's history involves colonial farmers who were removing wildlife because they were seen as competing with cattle, as well as native poachers who killed wildlife to survive (no money). Both problems could be solved by giving value to wildlife by providing individual ownership. So, I think the answer can be found in history. One system would not work in the other country, probably. So, one system is not better than the other--it is the answer to a problem in that country. That is my perspective.

  12. I am totally agree with Real estate Bunbury and real estate Altona. I had so many queries about it but after reading Mr. Larkin Powell's replies I feel satisfied So I am very thankful to him.

  13. Very knowledgeable blog, lot of interesting subjects.......Thanks for share,but information is very short.please write more in your blog.

  14. This is really informative blog. I was not aware about it. Thanks for updating us.

  15. I felt treasure to read your blog. lot of knowledge here. It is very useful for me.Thanks for updating us.

  16. I am confused on the position of Namibia. You wrote their They manage their property jointly. But Namibia is improving the condition and economy day by day. How they handle this?

  17. Thanks to all for the comments. It seems that many of you are in the Real Estate market, so it is a new audience for my blog.

    For @building maintenance, let me clarify...the properties that I'm referencing are rural ranches. By joining with their neighbors, there are some things that become more cost-efficient for the ranchers. For example, they can market their hunting operations by having one person attend a rally to advertise the entire neighborhood. When a hunter comes to the area, he/she can hunt on more than one farm--so the diversity of wildlife is greater. Also, the management can create zones across farms that are managed for different species---a single landowner could not do that with the small farm.

    These arrangements are only happening on a portion of Namibia's ranches. So, not all landowners choose to do this.

    I think the landowners who choose to manage their farms 'in concert' with their neighbors would say that their nation's economy has improved because of the unique and creative ways that Namibians work to make money. Cross-property agreements are one example of their creative ways.

    If you want more details, I'll plug my book that I wrote on the subject. It contains interviews with landowners about these arrangements: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/farming-with-wildlife/12470143 It's currently 15% off the list-price!