How do people in rural areas in the global south access water and land – essential resources for their livelihoods?  And how do institutions work to shape natural resource management and development? This is the ongoing focus of Frances Cleaver’s research.

For the last two decades or so there has been a strong emphasis on ‘getting institutions right’ in development policy.  Robust and adaptable institutions are thought to contribute to good governance and democracy through a focus on pubic debate, and through mechanisms for accountability and transparency.  They are also thought to deliver sustainability by ensuring appropriate and responsible local resource use.  A lot of money and effort has been spent by governments and development agencies in building strong institutions  at the local level – including Water User Associations, Farmer Groups, Forest Management Committees and the like.  But the evidence for the success of these initiatives is mixed and critics say that such arrangements often reproduce power relations, exclude marginalised groups and fail to secure sustainable natural resource management. Additionally, the focus on formal public institutions overlooks the variety of other social arrangements through which people access resources.

Frances Cleaver is currently investigating these issues through two projects. One concerns green economy initiatives in Tanzania (including climate smart agriculture and conservation) and how these  travel through institutions to produce variable outcomes for people’s land and water rights  The other project aims to understand local management arrangements for waterpoints in Malawi, Ethiopia and Uganda. Here the emphasis is on understanding the obstacles to achieving ongoing functionality and equity of access.

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