Embargo Period


Degree Name

MA in Sustainable Development

First Advisor

Joseph Lanning


Contrary to conventional common-pool resource (CPR) theory – where it is presumed that strong central states must be the primary actors in regulating the commons – self-governed CPR theory is a method that enables the appropriators themselves to be the primary actors in designing and managing a given CPR. Irrigation systems are one on the most common examples of CPR sharing. Using Elinor Ostrom’s theory on self-governed CPR management and her Eight Design Principles, I examine the mechanisms by which two neighboring small-scale irrigation schemes in rural Malawi manage and govern common-pool water resources to contrast intra-scheme functions and the presence or absence of inter-scheme conflict and collaboration. I discuss how Elinor Ostrom’s design principles should be critically examined, especially in contexts where CPR arenas have limited to no coordination or oversight from external authorities. I elaborate how these schemes have a top-down governance approach, thus, local agriculture offices should organize schemes to introduce more democratic bottom-up reforms. Even in these setting where appropriators are generally homogenous, I demonstrate how appropriators from both schemes often avoid conflict and collaboration. Ultimately, this study demonstrates the coordination opportunities amongst neighboring schemes and local external authorities; specifically, in market integration, crop diversification and joint-scheme capacity building so other self-governed irrigation schemes can be more resilient to climate change, combat food insecurities and have enhanced conflict-resolution tools for self-governed water systems in rural Malawi.


Community-Based Research | Politics and Social Change | Social and Cultural Anthropology

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