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Winners and losers: privatising the commons in Botswana

Adrian Cullis, Cathy Watson

Report/paper, 33 pages

In recent years, the "Botswana model" of rangeland policy has been heralded by many as a successful example of government intervention to improve the performance of the livestock sector. The simplicity of the theoretical assumptions underpinning the "model" (the so-called "tragedy of the commons" theory) and of the policy implications that it entails (privatisation of common rangelands), make Botswana’s experience an appealing example for policy makers and donor agencies alike across Africa. However, research conducted in the 1980s and the 1990s has demonstrated the limits of tragedy-of-the-commons arguments, and has led to a shift in thinking on range ecology.This paper reviews Botswana’s experience with the privatisation of the commons, drawing on available literature. While several studies were carried out in the 1990s, there is very little up-to-date information on this issue. The paper also identifies key issues for further research on the ground. The paper is likely to be of interest not only for the citizens of Botswana, but also for those grappling with rangeland policy issues in Africa and elsewhere.

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In much of Africa, rural populations depend on access to common property resources such as rangelands and forests for their livelihoods. Securing local rights of access to and management of such resources against encroachment or alienation by national or international actors is key to protecting the livelihoods of local people.

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Securing the commons

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