Governance change and institutional adaptation: a case study from Harenna Forest, Ethiopia

Dereje T. Wakjira, Anke Fischer, Michelle A. Pinard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Many common pool resources have traditionally been managed through intricate local governance arrangements. Over time, such arrangements are confronted with manifold political, social, economic and ecological changes. However, the ways in which local governance arrangements react to such changes are poorly understood. Using the theoretical concept of institutional adaptation, we analyse the history of Harenna forest, Ethiopia, to examine processes of institutional change over the last 150 years. We find that the traditional institutions that governed Harenna's resources persisted, in essence, over time. However, these institutions were modified repeatedly to address changes caused by varying formal, supra-regional governance regimes, the development of markets for forest products, increasing population pressure and changes in formal property rights. A key mechanism for adaptation was combining elements from both informal and formal institutions, which allowed traditional rules to persist in the guise of more formal arrangements. Our findings also highlight several constraints of institutional adaptation. For example, by abolishing fora for collective decision-making, regime changes limited adaptive capacity. To conclude, we argue that such insights into traditional resource governance and its adaptability and dynamics over time are essential to develop sustainable approaches to participatory forest management for the future, both in Harenna and more generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)912-925
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number4
Early online date25 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • adaptive capacity
  • coffee
  • Oromo Gada
  • informal institutions
  • historical trend analysis
  • pastoralism


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