designing for governing the commons

Designing for Governing the Commons: Ghana’s Community Resource Management Areas (CREMA)

Kinship uses Elinor Ostrom’s seminal research on “Governing the Commons” to teach conservation practitioners how they can improve community-based conservation organizations.  Ostrom’s work demonstrates that natural resource management institutions can endure and prosper under a series of conditions, which are the “design principles” for management of common pool resources:

  1. There are clearly defined boundaries for both the resource and who can use it. 
  2. Use rules are adapted to local conditions, including cost and benefit sharing (“Proportional equivalence”).
  3. Resource users participate in rule creation and modification. 
  4. Monitors are accountable to users.
  5. Sanctions are graduated according to the severity of the offense. 
  6. Conflict resolution is through a low-cost local mechanism.
  7. Governments recognize local rights to organize.
  8. Institutions and rules are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises. 
This video explains the Design Principles from Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom’s book, Governing the Commons.

A mature example of Ostrom’s “design principles” in biodiversity conservation is in Ghana, where Kinship Faculty John Mason has spent the last 30 years helping develop the Community Resource Management Areas (CREMA) model. 

Although indigenous people own 94% of land in Ghana, all native trees and wildlife on the land belong to government. This gives a perverse incentive against wise stewardship. Rural land holders exploit their resources without regard for the future, leading to a rapid decline in wildlife and forest resources, and increasing soil loss and degradation. Effective, community-managed institutions for sustainable natural resource management are rare. 

Shea butter production in Ghana. Image: Dominic A. Kyilleh

The first CREMA was formed on 100,000 hectares of clearly defined indigenous land where 22 indigenous communities agreed upon regulations through which 1,700 women harvest organically certified shea nuts. The local patrol team monitors the landscape, with incompliance handled by the CREMA executive in open meetings. Conflicts that cannot be solved are taken to chiefs for resolution in traditional court hearings/durbars. CREMA are recognized by government with management of natural resource formally devolved to the CREMA Executive Committee, and multiple contiguous CREMAs are nested across indigenous ethnicities to form landscape level associations.  

Within the CREMA area, wild populations of plants and animals have rebounded; keystone species numbers have grown, and rich biodiversity habitats now harbor more bird species than comparable areas. The CREMA model has improved local livelihoods by spurring economic diversification and infrastructure development at rates 2–8 times higher than in surrounding communities; the harvest of shea nuts increased from 80 to 400 tonnes, while total payments to community members and CREMA have exceeded $1.8 million over 5 years.  In addition, improved social capital, true empowerment, an equitable distribution of benefits, ecological awareness among children, and support for the CREMA—even amongst community members who were disadvantaged by its creation—speak to long-term prospects. Based on this success, the CREMA model – with its adherence to all eight of Ostrom’s design principles – is now being implemented across various geographies, ecologies, cultures, and economies.

In Ghana, the Community Resource Management Area (CREMA) mechanism is being implemented to address key natural resources governance and management challenges that account for the declining trend in natural resources. But what is a CREMA and how does it work?

Featured: Kinship Faculty John Mason

John Mason is founder and CEO of the Nature Conservation Research Centre based in Accra, Ghana. Born and raised in Nigeria, John has been based in Ghana for 35 years and is a leading voice for local community participation in conservation. John pioneered the development of the successful Community Resource Management Areas (CREMA) model which is being adapted to address the challenges of delivering community benefits. In Ethiopia, John led the design of the Bale Mountains Eco-region REDD+ project and was a visionary for the Oromia Regional State REDD+ Program. He has been instrumental in securing $600 million in climate finance into Africa and has facilitated large-scale international private sector investment into Ethiopia’s forestry and Ghana’s cocoa sectors. John serves on the Kinship Conservation Fellows faculty. He holds degrees from University of Guelph, University of Waterloo, and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and is visiting faculty in the School of Conservation, African Leadership University.