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Governance and the making and breaking of social-ecological traps

Dana M. Baker, Duke University Marine Lab, Nicholas School of Environment, Duke University, Beaufort, North Carolina
Grant Murray, Duke University Marine Lab, Nicholas School of Environment, Duke University, Beaufort, North Carolina
Andrew Kyei Agyare, Ghana Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission, Accra, Ghana


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Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have areas of significant ecological importance that overlap with pressing development needs and high levels of natural resource dependence. This makes the design of effective natural resource governance and management systems both challenging and critical. In Ghana, this challenge is made more complex by the necessity of connecting formal, state-led systems of governance with Ghana’s informal governance systems through which customary authorities exert considerable control over land and resources.
We present findings from two multimethod research projects in two regions of Ghana that have significant issues related to resource exploitation and that have experienced extensive management interventions. The goals of the research were to characterize the social-ecological traps from a local perspective, to describe how governance and management structures interact with and relate to those traps, and to discuss the strategies used and challenges encountered when community-based natural resource management initiatives seek to reverse persistent social-ecological traps. In both case studies, participants described persistent cycles of resource dependence, overexploitation, and unsustainable land-use practices, which are exacerbated by illegal logging, intensive agricultural development, and population growth. Findings highlight how natural resource management is constrained by a lack of capacity to implement and enforce state policies, ongoing tension between customary and state institutions, and ambiguity regarding management responsibility and resource tenure. Interventions included targeted governance reform that centred on improving linkages between customary and state institutions, new and nonlocal actors, and complementary investments in capacity building and training. We conclude with a discussion of implications for the design of effective natural resource governance regimes in Ghana and beyond.

Key words

community-based management; conservation; decentralization; Ghana; governance; protected areas

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087