The project «Montes de Socios» Elinor Ostrom Award 2017

The project «Montes de Socios» from the Soria Forestry Association, has been awarded the third Elinor Ostrom Award in the ‘practitioners’ category for their work in defence of montes de socios. This award is the highest recognition given worldwide to institutions, administrations or individuals that engage in important work to defend common goods and their governance.

Montes de socios is a common tenure and woodlands governance system typical of north-central Spain.

The award is given to honour the legacy of Nobel laureate economist Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012), who, over the course of 30 years, was able to not only overcome the conceptual confrontation between ‘public’ and ‘private’, recognizing the concept of ‘commons’ and emphasizing its specificity, but also to show that when the management of common goods is done by local communities using clear and democratic governance models, it is much more efficient. This contradicts years of economic tradition in which it was argued that local communities were unable to govern directly their goods in a sustainable way (the tragedy of the commons).

Many of those that today are members of Iniciativa Comunales knew about the project «Montes de Socios» in our first meeting in 2013, in Valdeavellano de Tera, Soria. There, the Soria Forestry Association team kindly host us and presented us their interesting project, directly on the ground. During this almost historic meeting it also took place the VI General Assambly of the ICCA Consortium, an organization working hard on the support and recognition of the areas and territories conserved by local comunities and indigenous peoples (ICCA) all around the wold. In this meeting also was drafted the Declaration of Valdeavellano de Tera, from which, not long after, will come out Iniciativa Comunales as legal organization.

In the case of the Soria Forestry Association, the work done to support the montes de socios has consisted of recovering, visualizing and positioning a collective form of property born as a result of late 19th-century expropriation processes in the 21st century.

The work done by the Soria Forestry Association has also demonstrated one of the great postulates of Elinor Ostrom: when there is good preparation, training and support, communities are able to manage and govern their resources autonomously.

One of the Soria Forestry Association’s most significant innovations in the recovery of this type of forest space is the concept of local community, which forms the basis of this communal status today. This entails a new model, involving the participation of both the few people who still reside in their towns and those who have moved away, but continue to feel an attachment to these places. This rural-urban reconnection is accompanied by a large contingent of individuals attracted to the communal model (while the towns may have fewer than 10 inhabitants, the communes themselves often comprise several hundred people). It also promotes equity and the equal integration of people of all social stripes, including women, young people and groups at risk of marginalization, guaranteeing the very preservation of the commune, its rejuvenation, and enriching the governance model with new views and ways of understanding relationships between people and natural resources, turning these rural spaces into ‘territories of opportunity’.

The work done by the Soria Forestry Association has also demonstrated one of the great postulates of Elinor Ostrom: when there is good preparation, training and support, communities are able to manage and govern their resources autonomously.

Delegates of ICCAs from all arround the world met in 2013 in Valdeavellano de Tera, Soria (Spain), to share knowledge and experiences with the project «Montes de Socios» from the Soria Forestry Association. During the meeting, the ICCA Consortium held its VI General Assembly with the participation of delegates from more than 25 countries.

The work resulting from the montes de socios initiative, especially in contexts of high depopulation, aligns perfectly with another of the maxims of the Nobel laureate by maximizing the importance of human communities, in this case through the juntas gestoras, which become pillars of rural conservation.

Juntas gestora is the montes de socios governance institution.

The fact that the Soria Forestry Association has been recognized with this high international distinction for its work recovering and defending the montes de socios in Spain is significant not only for the montes de socios themselves, but also for all the local and communal governance systems still existing in our country.

As a 21st-century advanced society, we must start thinking about the future that we desire for rural areas. Their disappearance would impoverish our country and create economic, ecological and social problems.

The award ceremony will take place next July in Utrecht (the Netherlands) as part of the XVI Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons.

Today, the montes de socios in Spain occupy an area of approximately 1.5 million hectares, affecting several hundred thousand people. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the communal systems in our country: most pasture lands are communal, inshore fishing is managed by more than 200 traditional fishing guilds (providing 85% of the fishing sector jobs in Spain), hunting societies manage 6.4 million hectares, several thousand traditional irrigation societies still exist, 3,000 common dneighbourhood woodlands can still be found, a significant amount of municipally owned lands retain governance links with their respective neighbourhood societies, etc.

This award, the Nobel Prize for the Defence of the Commons, also reminds us of our ancestors, who were able to recover these lands with great effort and, over generations, preserved the natural heritage that we inherit. From these roots come today’s branches.




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