Socio-ecological Change in Rural Ethiopia

Understanding Local Dynamics in Environmental Planning and Natural Resource Management

by Till Stellmacher (Volume editor)
©2015 Conference proceedings XII, 94 Pages


Socio-ecological change is characterized by interactions among a wide range of actors with different interests, needs and capabilities. Environmental planning has to contribute to the coalescence of local realities, multi-stakeholder land-use planning and policy making. Contributing to this discourse, this book presents empirical local case studies from Ethiopia that illustrate socio-ecological change in the form of rural livelihood transformation. Various approaches to environmental planning and natural resource management are depicted that can be used as lessons learned in similar contexts in Ethiopia and beyond.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Contributors
  • Table of Contents
  • Indigenous Traditional Institutions and Common Pool Resources in Ethiopia: The Case of Halaba Serra and the Bilate Area Closure Project
  • Protect and Lose? Conservation and Conflicts in Nech Sar National Park, Ethiopia
  • The Impact of Industrialization on Land Use and Livelihoods in Ethiopia: Agricultural Land Conversion around Gelan and Dukem Town, Oromia Region
  • Conservation Planning and Management: Developing a Zoning Concept for Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve, Oromia Region, Ethiopia
  • Anthropogenic Degradation of Wildlife Habitats and the Need for Alternative Conservation Strategies: The case of Nech Sar National Park, Ethiopia

Sisay Seifu, Till Stellmacher and Gerhard Albert

Indigenous Traditional Institutions and Common Pool Resources in Ethiopia: The Case of Halaba Serra and the Bilate Area Closure Project

Abstract This chapter investigates the nexus between serra, an indigenous traditional institution, and the use, management and conservation of common pool resources in rural Ethiopia. By building on empirical findings from an area closure project in Halaba woreda, Southern State, the study shows that although the judicial function of serra has diminished, it still constitutes a pillar of local cultural identity and societal stabilization.

Key words: Area closure, Halaba serra, indigenous traditional institutions, common pool resources

1.1 Introduction

Livelihoods in many rural societies around the world directly depend on the use and management of natural resources on the basis of regulations imposed by institutions referred to as indigenous and traditional (Becker and Ostrom, 1995). In this chapter, we understand indigenous traditional institutions as locally derived, community-based and informal “constraints that shape human interaction [and] structure incentives in human exchange, whether political, social, or economic [as well as] define and limit the set of choices of individuals” (North, 1990: 3,4). Indigenous traditional institutions may determine human decision-making and behavior regarding the use, management and conservation of natural resources. They are often portrayed as being more effective and efficient than externally top-down imposed institutions (Barrow et al., 2000; Colding and Folke, 2001; Agrawal, 2008; Beall and Ngonyama, 2009). Neglecting and undermining the role of indigenous traditional institutions on use, management and conservation of natural resources is considered one of the causes of poor outcomes of environmental planning and management projects in recent decades (Agrawal and Gibson, 1999). Agrawal and Gibson (1999) recommended a focus on the concept of institutions rather than on communities for a more substantial analysis of natural resource planning and management, particularly with regard to common pool resources. ← 1 | 2 →

Halaba Special woreda is located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPRS), Ethiopia. In 1995, the Halaba Special woreda Agricultural Office started a community-based Area Closure project (hereafter referred to as Bilate AC) with the aim of rehabilitating degraded agricultural land. Some authors, such as Amede et al. (2007), argue that the Bilate AC has continued to exist mainly due to the presence of the serra,1 an indigenous traditional institution that constitutes a system of social order in many parts of Southern Ethiopia. Amede et al. (ibid.) describe the social rejection and exclusion of individuals who do not abide by agreed terms according to the serra sanctioning system. The article at hand tests the hypothesis that the serra in Halaba (referred to henceforth as Halaba serra) has a direct impact on the use, management and conservation of the Bilate AC. The aim of the article is to describe and empirically verify the existence and function of the Halaba serra, and the extent of its involvement in the use, management and conservation of Bilate AC, and to discuss the implications for planning and management of common pool resources.

This article is based on empirical research conducted in four kebeles that cover the Bilate AC. Primary data was collected in 2012 by using face-to-face household interviews, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews. Moreover, secondary information from governmental offices as well as scientific and grey literature was used.

1.2 Literature Review

Scientific empirical studies offer many examples of how indigenous traditional institutions determine the use, management and conservation of natural resources in Ethiopia. Stellmacher (2007) and Stellmacher and Nolten (2010) have shown their importance with regard to coffee forest use and management in Kaffa Zone and Bale Mountains, Ethiopia. Other authors have described the impact of the Borana Oromo gadaa system on the use, management and conservation of natural resources in Oromo-dominated parts of Ethiopia (Tache and Irwin, 2003). Chisholm (1998) illustrated how an indigenous traditional institution called baito mobilizes and organizes people through collective action arrangements, rulemaking and resolution of conflicts over communal forests and grazing lands in Tigray Region, Northern Ethiopia. Ashenafi and Leader-Williams (2005) showed the characteristics of an indigenous common property resource management system called qero in Central Ethiopia. Plentiful other ← 2 | 3 → authors have worked on similar topics in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, such as Jimoh et al. (2012) who described the role of traditional laws and taboos on wildlife protection in national parks in Nigeria. Beyond the use, management and protection of natural resources, indigenous traditional institutions can play vital roles in securing land use rights (Crook et al., 2007), the negotiation and resolution of land disputes (Hebo, 2005), and in state-building and peace processes, as shown by Beall and Ngonyama (2009) in Greater Durban, South Africa, and by Arsano (2002) in Kembata,2 Central Ethiopia. Kembata is used synonymously with Kambata or Cambata.


XII, 94
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
Local livelihoods land-use planning multi-stakeholder
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XII, 94 pp., 3 coloured ill., 27 b/w ill., 6 tables

Biographical notes

Till Stellmacher (Volume editor)

Till Stellmacher is Senior Researcher at the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany. His main field of expertise is agrarian transformation and environmental change in rural sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Ethiopia.


Title: Socio-ecological Change in Rural Ethiopia
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108 pages