African Journal of
Agricultural Research

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Agric. Res.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 1991-637X
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJAR
  • Start Year: 2006
  • Published Articles: 6849

Full Length Research Paper

Enhancing social-ecological resilience through social learning: A case study of communal pasture management in the Highlands of Ethiopia

Lemlem Aregu
  • Lemlem Aregu
  • Centre for Development Research, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, and Policy, Economics and Social Science, World Fish, Yangon, Myanmar; Vienna, Austria.
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Ika Darnhofer
  • Ika Darnhofer
  • Department of Economics and Social Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria.
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  •  Received: 19 August 2015
  •  Accepted: 15 October 2015
  •  Published: 17 December 2015


Social learning processes can play an important role in enabling communities to sustainably manage the natural resources they depend upon. We examine how a community in the highlands of Ethiopia has succeeded to manage its communal pasture sustainably over the past decades. We identified three processes that played a key role in enabling the community to take the window of opportunity offered by a radical policy change to transform their management approach. Firstly, traditional leaders recognized the window of opportunity and mobilized the community. Secondly, a participatory process led to an informal institution that has governed the access and use of the communal pasture. Thirdly, the community was able to effectively interact with various government agencies to safeguard its autonomy. The study thus indicates that, in face of the complexity and uncertainty associated with pervasive change, social-ecological resilience relies on social learning and the ability to engage in open-ended processes. It also emphasizes that rather than promoting technical ‘packages’ that focus on the biophysical productivity of a natural resource, it may be more effective to facilitate integrative social processes, thereby enabling communities to identify and implement locally adapted management approaches.


Key words: Human-nature interaction, natural resources management, grassland, bricolage, collective action, community resilience.