Human Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 351–365 | Cite as

Open Access, Open Systems: Pastoral Management of Common-Pool Resources in the Chad Basin

  • Mark MoritzEmail author
  • Paul Scholte
  • Ian M. Hamilton
  • Saïdou Kari


The discussion about the impact of pastoralists on ecosystems has been profoundly shaped by Hardin’s tragedy of the commons that held pastoralists responsible for overgrazing the range. Research has shown that grazing ecosystems are much more complex and dynamic than was previously assumed and that they can be managed adaptively as commons. However, proponents and critics of Hardin’s thesis continue to argue that open access to common-pool resources inevitably leads to a tragedy of the commons. A longitudinal study that we conducted of pastoral mobility and primary production in the Logone floodplain in the Far North Region of Cameroon suggest that open access does not have to lead to a tragedy of the commons. We argue that this pastoral system is best conceptualized as an open system, in which a combination of individual decision-making and coordination of movements leads to an ideal-free type of distribution of mobile pastoralists. We explain how this self-organizing system of open access works and its implications for theories of management of common-pool resources and our understanding of pastoral systems.


Open access Common-pool resources Pastoral systems Chad Basin 



This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (BCS-0748594), the National Geographic Society (8306-07), and the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Anthropology Department at the Ohio State University. We want to thank the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation (MINRESI), the Ecole de Faune de Garoua, and the University of Maroua for granting research permission and research affiliation. Paul Maddock and Qian Hao made the maps, Kristen Ritchey conducted structured interviews in 2009, and CARPA research assistants Oumarou Kari, Haman Wabi, and Sali Siddiki collected much of the spatial data. We would like to thank Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Endre Nyerges, and the reviewers for critical comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Moritz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul Scholte
    • 2
  • Ian M. Hamilton
    • 3
  • Saïdou Kari
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.AmsterdamNetherlands
  3. 3.Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, Department of MathematicsThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  4. 4.Centre d’Appui a la Recherche et au Pastoralisme (CARPA)MarouaCameroon

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