Governance of land and natural resources

governance boliva

Sustainable development seeks to preserve the long-term quality, quantity, and equitable use of natural resources (soil, water, vegetation, biodiversity, and air). Socio-culturally and historically defined institutions (norms, rules, incentives, and sanctions) largely provide the framework for sustainable development. They determine how private, state, communal, and collective use rights are distributed in society, and how sustainably they are exercised.

Within these institutional frameworks, stakeholders such as farming families, cooperatives, and state or private companies organize the production of food, renewable raw materials, and the distribution of land or water. Unequal power relations between these stakeholders often strongly influence which type of resource use predominates. Political, social, and economic power relations ultimately determine whether small-scale or agro-industrial production structures prevail, and whether conventional or organic production methods are used. The form of production in turn influences the methods used to process and distribute food and agricultural commodities.

Current development has overstepped planetary boundaries: climate, land use change, biodiversity, and overfertilization. In many places, projects and activities intended to improve development – such as dams, expansion of industrial monocultures, mining, and growing fossil fuel use – are actually diminishing sustainably managed resources and, consequently, the livelihoods of important stakeholders such as small-scale farmers.

Inadequate resource governance in the global South and North often leads to poverty, migration, indebtedness, and hunger. It can also cause the displacement of small-scale farmers from their own land, for example, through “land-grabbing”. Powerful stakeholders in the global North – including investors, transnational companies, and patent-holders of knowledge and technology – directly influence developments in the global South. There is a direct link between persistent poverty in the South and the North’s dominant patterns of production and consumption.

Sustainable resource governance means securing the long-term quality of natural resources and allocating use rights in a fair and democratic way. If we want to govern resources sustainably, how must we change our current institutions and their integration in broader sociopolitical frameworks? Fundamental questions such as these guide our cluster’s work.

Our inter- and transdisciplinary research projects are aimed at better understanding strengths and weaknesses of sustainable resource governance. Important topics include land and water rights, sustainable food systems, sustainable regional and landscape development, adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, methods of enhancing basic democratic mechanisms in governance systems, and sustainable ways of life in the sense of sufficiency and “vivir bien”, or “the good life”.

Our implementation projects serve to develop and apply methods and instruments that show how concrete governance of natural resources can be positively influenced. Important topics are the use of knowledge and information among key actors in the field of land and water governance, moderation of stakeholder forums to support social learning processes, and participation in education and training events within and outside the university.