Ruth Meinzen-Dick

International Food Policy Resarch Institute
environment and Production Technology Division

2033 K St
Washington , DC
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I coordinate the CGIAR program on Collective Action and Property Rights ( and conduct research on land, water, and natural resource management policy, tenure arrangements, climate change, gender, participation, and a range of international development issues. I also co-lead IFPRI's research theme on Strengthening Institutions and Governance.

Meinzen-Dick, R., and E. Mwangi. 2008. "Cutting the Web of Interests: Pitfalls of Formalizing Property Rights." Land Use Policy 26 (1):36-43.
Abstract: Property rights to land can be thought of as a web of interests, with many different parties having a right to use, regulate, or manage the resource, which may be based on a range of customary institutions or local norms as well as state law. These interests often play a critical role in livelihoods, social relations, and ecological functions. The formalization of property rights has historically led to a cutting of this web, creating more exclusive forms of rights over the resource. Drawing from case studies in Kenya the paper emphasizes the risk of excluding legitimate claimants in formalization processes that focus on individual titling. By collapsing all rights within individuals, such programs have negated the distinct multiple claims by women, youths, and seasonal users, among others. We examine ways in which formalization processes can secure diverse claims, and highlight the need for a better understanding of the social and ecological implications of existing land tenure before they are undermined by formalization.
DOI: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2007.06.003
Molle, F., P. P. Mollinga, and R. Meinzen-Dick.2008. "Water, Politics and Development: Introducing Water Alternatives." Water Alternatives 1 (1):1-6.
Abstract: This article introduces a peer reviewed, open access, interdisciplinary journal on water, politics, and development.
Meinzen-Dick, R. 2014. "Property Rights and Sustainable Irrigation: A Developing Country Perspective." Agricultural Water Management 145:23–31.
Abstract: While the role of secure property rights contributing to sustainable natural resource management is increasingly recognized, translating that into practice is more challenging, especially in developing countries. This article presents a framework for understanding the role of property rights for effective irrigation systems and then explores the complexity of property rights to land, water, and infrastructure and their underlying institutions. Understanding property rights in practice requires acknowledging legal pluralism—the coexistence of many types and sources of law, which can be used as the basis for claiming rights over the resources. Property rights do not necessarily imply full ownership, but are composed of different bundles of rights that may be held by different claimants—the state, user groups, families, or individuals. These rights are critical for the authority, incentives, and resources for irrigation operation and maintenance. As resources become more scarce, property rights systems need to adapt to reduce conflict and provide incentives for saving water. However, efforts to improve irrigation by changing property rights systems have often failed because they have not recognized the difficulty of transplanting property rights systems from one place to another. Institutional change needs to be seen as an organic process, building on existing norms and practices, rather than as an exercise in social engineering.
DOI: 10.1016/j.agwat.2014.03.017
Mwangi, E., R. Meinzen-Dick, and Y. Sun. 2011. "Gender and Sustainable Forest Management in East Africa and Latin America." Ecology and Society 16 (1):17.
Abstract: This paper presents a comparative study of forest management across four countries in East Africa and Latin America: Kenya, Uganda, Bolivia, and Mexico. It focuses on one question: Do varying proportions of women (low, mixed, high) in forest user groups influence their likelihood of adopting forest resource enhancing behavior? We found that higher proportions of females in user groups, and especially user groups dominated by females, perform less well than mixed groups or male dominated ones. We suggest that these differences may be related to three factors: gender biases in technology access and dissemination, a labor constraint faced by women, and a possible limitation to women’s sanctioning authority. Mixed female and male groups offer an avenue for exploiting the strengths of women and men, while tempering their individual shortcomings.
URL: http://
Behrman, J., R. Meinzen-Dick, and A. Quisumbing. 2012. "The Gender Implications of Large-Scale Land Deals." Journal of Peasant Studies 39 (1):49-79.
Abstract: This article introduces a discussion of gender dimensions into the growing debate on large-scale land deals. It addresses the current information gap on the differential gender effects of large-scale land deals through (1) an overview of the phases of large-scale land deals and discussion of related effects on rural men and women based on new literature on large-scale land deals and past literature on the gender effects of commercialization and contract farming; (2) a presentation of further evidence using several case studies on the gender effects of large-scale deals; and (3) a conclusion that looks at knowledge gaps and areas for further research as well as broad recommendations for gender equitable large-scale land deals.
DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2011.652621
Ratner, B., R. Meinzen-Dick, C. May, and E. Haglund. 2013. "Resource Conflict, Collective Action, and Resilience: An Analytical Framework." International Journal of the Commons 7 (1):183–208.
Abstract: Where access to renewable natural resources essential to rural livelihoods is highly contested, improving cooperation in resource management is an important element in strategies for peacebuilding and conflict prevention. While researchers have made advances in assessing the role of environmental resources as a causal factor in civil conflict, analysis of the positive potential of collective natural resource management efforts to reduce broader conflict is less developed. Addressing this need, we present a framework on collective action, conflict prevention, and social-ecological resilience, linking local stakeholder dynamics to the broader institutional and governance context. Accounting for both formal and informal relationships of power and influence, as well as values and stakeholder perceptions alongside material interests, the framework aims to provide insight into the problem of (re)building legitimacy of commonpool resource management institutions in conflict-sensitive environments. We outline its application in stakeholder-based problem assessment and planning, participatory monitoring and evaluation, and multi-case comparative analysis.
Doss, C., R. Meinzen-Dick and A. Bomuhangi. 2014. "Who Owns the Land? Perspectives from Rural Ugandans and Implications for Large-Scale Land Acquisitions." Feminist Economics 20 (1):76-100.
Abstract: Rapidly growing demand for agricultural land is putting pressure on property-rights systems, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where customary tenure systems have provided secure land access. Rapid and large-scale demands from outsiders are challenging patterns of gradual, endogenous change toward formalization. Little attention has focused on the gender dimensions of this transformation. However this contribution, based on a 2008–09 study of land tenure in Uganda, analyzes how different definitions of land ownership – including household reports, existence of ownership documents, and rights over the land – provide very different indications of the gendered patterns of land ownership and rights. While many households report husbands and wives as joint owners of the land, women are less likely to be listed on ownership documents, and have fewer rights. A simplistic focus on “title” to land misses much of the reality regarding land tenure and could have an adverse impact on women's land rights.
DOI: 10.1080/13545701.2013.855320
Meinzen-Dick, R., C. Kovarik and A. Quisumbing. 2014. "Gender and Sustainability." Annual Review of Environment and Resources 39:29–55.
Abstract: Sustainability and gender have been prominent on the development agenda since the 1980s, but there has been little systematic study of the links between the two. This review draws on ecofeminist theory, feminist political ecology, intrahousehold literature, and natural resource management case studies and reviews to examine how gender shapes the motives, means, and opportunities for men and women to contribute to sustainability. Particular attention is given to evidence on closeness to nature, focus on conservation, rights to resources, opportunities to exploit resources, and constraints to adoption of sustainable practices. Despite early claims that women are naturally more conserving of resources, the empirical literature, in particular, gives a more mixed and nuanced picture. Conservation is influenced not only by gender but also by a host of tangible and intangible factors, including local ecology, context, and culture, that affect incentives and the ability to adopt sustainable extraction and provision practices.
Bruns, B.R., C. Ringler, and R. S. Meinzen-Dick, eds.. 2005. Water Rights Reform: Lessons for Institutional Design. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute.
Abstract: Internationally there is growing understanding that water rights are important and that a lack of effective water rights systems creates major problems for the management of increasingly scarce water supplies. However, discussion of water rights has often failed to recognize the range of available institutional options, the rich diversity of lessons from experience, and the need for appropriate flexibility in adapting institutional design to dynamic local conditions. In response to these concerns, the editors and other colleagues organized an international working conference, held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2003, which brought together practitioners and researchers working on water rights reform. To further share ideas on improving water rights reform, this volume presents revised versions of selected papers from the conference. The focus is on experiences with implementing water rights reform….cases come from countries in six continents, and many of the authors draw on additional practical experience and research in multiple countries and regions.allocation systems, contributed empirical and conceptual knowledge to the discussion.
Mwangi, E., H. Markelova, and R. Meinzen-Dick, eds. 2012. Collective Action and Property Rights for Poverty Reduction: Insights from Africa and Asia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Abstract: To improve their well-being, the poor in developing countries have used both collective action through formal and informal groups and property rights to natural resources. Collective Action and Property Rights for Poverty Reduction: Insights from Africa and Asia examines how these two types of institutions, separately and together, influence quality of life and how they can be strengthened to improve the livelihoods of the rural poor. The product of a global research study by the Systemwide Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, this book draws on case studies from East Africa and South and Southeast Asia to investigate how collective action and property rights have contributed to poverty reduction. The book extends the analysis of these institutions beyond their frequently studied role in natural resource management by also examining how they can reduce vulnerability to different types of shocks.
Meinzen-Dick, R. 2007. "Beyond panaceas in irrigation institutions." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104:15200–15205.
Abstract: The past 50 years of water policy have seen alternating policies emphasize the state, user groups, or markets as essential for solving water-management problems. A closer look reveals that each of these solutions has worked in some places but failed in others, especially when policies attempted to spread them over too many countries and diverse situations. A study of the variable performances of user groups for canal irrigation in India illustrates the factors that affect institutional performance. Research that identifies the critical factors affecting irrigation institutions can

Substantive Focus:
Energy and Natural Resource Policy PRIMARY
Governance SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus:
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation PRIMARY