The Rise and Fall of Cooperative Resource Management: A Case Study of Mussel Farming in Killary Harbour
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Natural resources have become a critical focus for rural development programmes. In the past many families in rural areas relied upon small scale agriculture as the primary source of income for the household. These households would typically depend on social welfare payments and seasonal work as a secondary source of employment. However with the rising cost of production and a declining price for agriculture products, small scale agriculture was no longer a reliable source of income. This created structural weaknesses for many peripheral rural areas. As a result there has been much focus placed upon diversifying rural economies with a high priority placed on natural resources. This is typified by the Axis 3 programme under the National Development Plan 2007-2013, which cites natural resources as a valuable means to diversify local economies and compensate for the fall off in agriculture. The model of development within this plan has focused upon maximising community participation in natural resource based industries. Such a model immediately introduces the issue of management as many of these resources are finite and subject to depletion. It is imperative that they are managed sustainably as the future needs of rural communities rely upon their continued survival. The most obvious solution would be for the state to take control of management. However questions have been raised over this, mainly due to enforcement difficulties and the fact that the state can often prioritise goals of economic growth over resource sustainability. Consequently much attention has been placed upon decentralised management where the resource users take control of management and devise cooperative strategies to safeguard the resource in the long run. Mckean (1992) has outlined a number of important institutional factors which can improve the likely success of local self-governance. The important features in Mckean's model include restricting access to members of the local community, developing and enforcing rules and establishing local leaders to give the project energy and a focus. She also cites the importance of support from the state where local institutions are given financial assistance and provided with real property rights over the resource. In spite of this, in-depth empirical accounts of local self-governance are absent in the literature on Ireland¿s resource management. Given the high priority now placed on natural resources, this issue should be considered of significant importance. This thesis examines the scope of local self-governance through a case study of mussel farming in Killary harbour, one of Ireland¿s largest aquacultural sites. Killary harbour is an interesting area to conduct this study as it is located in North West Connemara, an underdeveloped region in the west of Ireland, where natural resource have been trumpeted as a means to address local peripherality and decline. Furthermore there was a local co-operative that effectively managed the mussel stocks in Killary for a 20 year period, only for it to subsequently weaken. Consequently it can reveal a considerable amount on the likely dynamics that produce both a success and a decline in cooperative resource management. The findings presented in this study raise much optimism around local self governance given the co-operative's 20 year period of success. The success of the co-operative confirms Mckean's model as many of her factors were found to be present. Based on these findings we should expect local self-governance to be successful in Ireland if Mckean¿s factors can be incorporated into local institutions. A second important contribution made by this study is that Mckean's factors are still relevant despite the emergence of the market. Some commentators have questioned the validity of Mckean¿s model suggesting that it is outdated as it is based upon evidence from the 16th and 17th century. Certain viewpoints have argued that applying the evidence from this to a contemporary market society is suspect as resource users face declining prices at the market. This may cause users to extract more from the resource in order to survive, threatening local rules and institutions. While the market played a small role in the weakening of the co-operative in Killary, it was not the overriding variable. Changing local economic values coupled with a shifting policy direction forced co-operative mussel farming to decline in the area. Critically the co-operative was not provided with real property rights over the resource. When local economic values began to change, a number of 'free riders' emerged, who could not be disciplined as they lacked the necessary statutory instruments to do so. These variables were discussed by Mckean who argues that the state must give local institutions real property rights to deal with emerging 'free riders'. Consequently her model still holds as the lack of state support undermined the co-operative, while the market variable only had a small impact
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