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292 Many national governments wrested control over natural resources away from former resource exploiters at various times during the twentieth century, but are now in the process of considering or implementing the devolution of control to private individuals, community groups, or subnational governments.1 The outcomes of these initiatives are often crucial not only because of the wealth generated from the resources but also to the well-being of the local populations, the health of the ecosystems, and even the levels of armed conflict within these countries. This chapter reviews the issues and best practices regarding the decentralization of natural resource control, covering both renewable and nonrenewable resources. The focus is on developing countries , because, despite recent efforts of some developed countries to devolve natural resource user rights,2 this has been a much more common phenomenon in developing nations, and some of the challenges for developing countries are quite distinctive. Evaluating the optimal decentralization of government services related to natural resource exploitation is a refreshing approach to assessing the issue of natural resource control. This perspective permits a more refined analysis of how to allocate the multiplicity of services, which are often ignored in the conventional analysis of ownership and property rights. The concepts of ownership and property are too crude to accommodate the fact that government should retain some responsibilities, facilitate but not dominate the exercise of user Issues and Best Practices in the Decentralization of Natural Resource Control in Developing Countries william ascher 16 10491-16_Ch16.qxd 5/3/07 3:03 PM Page 292 decentralization of natural resource control 293 rights by others, and desist from involvement in yet other aspects of natural resource exploitation. A few definitions and conceptual clarifications are necessary before getting into the concrete issues of natural resource control. First, “natural resource exploitation” (without the negative connotation sometimes associated with the term “exploitation”) consists of —development of natural-resource assets or infrastructure (for example, planting trees, building a dam, developing a mine, exploring for petroleum). —extraction of natural resources (removal of ore, lifting of petroleum, harvesting timber). —processing of extracted natural resources (ore or petroleum refining, wood processing of timber to lumber). —sale of natural resources or processed products (sale of minerals or processed metals, of raw petroleum or petroleum products such as gasoline, or logs or processed wood products). —transfer of user rights to natural resources (sale of land, transfer of land or exploitation rights owing to default of loans secured by the land or the rights). Second, relying on Rondinelli’s distinctions, we can differentiate among deconcentration, through which central government personnel are assigned to localities away from the governmental center; delegation, through which control is granted to state enterprises, lower-level governmental actors, or nongovernmental actors, but the higher-level authorities retain the discretion to reassert their control; and devolution, through which higher-level authorities grant or recognize the formal permanent control by lower-level governmental or nongovernmental actors.3 The issues, in almost all contexts, are whether to proceed with delegation or devolution, to whom, and how. The line between delegation and devolution is often fuzzy, because sometimes governments renege on devolving control, asserting that the rights holders have not complied with the terms of the transfer . Therefore the distinction between granting and recognizing the devolution of control is important, in that “granting” control, even if intended and initially understood as devolution, may come to be construed as delegation, if the government claims (perhaps in the face of political and legal challenges) that its authority to grant control implies the authority to take it back. Devolution can entail privatization (if control is transferred to individuals, families, or corporations), or it can entail transfer of control to communities, which are then required to engage in collective resource governance. One of the auxiliary benefits of transferring control to local communities is that it provides a basis for participation and collective action, especially in regard to resources, such as water and forests, that are best managed on a larger scale. This has become a very common pattern. 10491-16_Ch16.qxd 5/3/07 3:03 PM Page 293 Yet the transfer of control for collective management raises crucial issues regarding the definition of community. Although it is common to use the term community to mean all who live within certain geographical confines, community resource management usually entails control by a subset of people who have enough common background, identifications, and interests so as to legitimize their control and provide the potential...


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