Resource Governance and Commons


COMMONPATHS. Commonification: transition pathways for urban sustainability.

Duration starting in March 2023
Funding Funded through Sinergia fund of the SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation)

Rising resource consumption and inequality in urban areas of the global North and South pose urgent socio-environmental problems related to sustainability. COMMONPATHS focuses on urban resources managed as commons – in Ghana and Switzerland – and explores how the collectives that manage these resources help address the challenges of overconsumption and inequality. The project examines the emergence, organization, impacts, and conditions of success of three processes for creating new commons that aim to (1) green cities, (2) create affordable housing, and (3) support community-based agrifood initiatives. By focusing on the governance of these three resource systems, COMMONPATHS aims to analyze the conditions under which these movements effectively contribute to strong sustainability. With an inter- and transdisciplinary approach, COMMONPATHS seeks to show that self-identified collectives can, moreover, be forms of socioeconomic organizations that promote socially, environmentally, and economically acceptable forms of degrowth.

Involved Persons (alphabetical  order)
  • Prof. Martin Dallimer (University of Leeds) 
  • Prof. Akosua Darkwah (University of Ghana)
  • Prof. Jean-David Gerber (University of Bern)
  • Prof. Julien-François Gerber (Erasmus University of Rotterdam)
  • Dr. Sandra Guinand (Ecole Supérieure de promotion immobilière (ESPI)
  • Carole Imhof (sanu durabilitas); Dr. Stephanie Moser (University of Bern)
  • Dr. Samuel Aniegye Ntewusu (University of Ghana)
  • Prof. Christoph Oberlack (University of Bern)
  • Prof. Miriam Tola (University of Lausanne)


The potential of collective tenure arrangements in agricultural investments (CoTenure)

Duration starting in January 2023
Funding Funded through SPIRIT fund of the SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation)

While land titling is often described as a central condition for agricultural development, it leads to enclosure and exclusion, with significant consequences on gendered access to land and related resources. This project aims to contribute to the debate on the investment-driven formalization of land titles by focusing on alternative forms of tenure arrangements that make collective resource uses, decision-making and responsibility possible. In particular formalized arrangements of collective tenure (FACT) are examined. They retain the advantages of three property regimes – private, state, and customary property – while minimizing their adverse effects regarding social justice and sustainability. In a mixed methods research approach in-depth case studies and cross-case comparative analysis are combined. The project will contribute to the institutionalization of FACTs as a practical approach for securing multi-stakeholder land governance and promote adaptive and gender-sensitive inclusive models to reduce the scale of land acquisitions, gender-based dispossession, and exclusions in favor of inclusive community-based smallholder partnership alternatives in Ghana and beyond.

Involved Persons (alphabetical  order)
  • Dr. Timothy Adams (University of Oxford)
  • Prof. Michèle Amacker (University of Bern)
  • Gertrude Aputiik (University of Ghana)
  • Belinda Banoenumah (University of Ghana)
  • Prof. Akosua Darkwah (University of Ghana)
  • Prof. Jean-David Gerber (University of Bern)
  • Prof. Tobias Haller (University of Bern)



Duration September 2021 – August 2025
Funding Financed by research unit

The current globalized food system operates on the principle of extractive capitalism, exacerbating inequalities between regions and population groups, as well as between human and non-human beings. However, collectively self-organized modes of valuing, governing, sharing and selling food, embedding farming with other economic and non-economic activities, distributing decision-making power to producers and consumers, and establishing a relationship between food growers and eaters, have persisted and new ones have emerged in recent decades. This project aims to better understand these food commons from a new institutionalist political ecology approach. Conducting a comparative case study of different market strategies of commons-based modes of farming in Switzerland and Peru, this research project examines how collectively self-organized farmers reconcile the tension between the monetary valuation of food and the multiple contributions of food and agriculture to society and the environment.

Involved Persons
  • Sarah Steinegger, University of Bern
  • Jean-David Gerber, University of Bern
  • Christoph Oberlack, University of Bern
  • Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel, University of Bern


The impact of decentralization of land administration on smallholder farming, resource use and access in Ghana


September 2018 – January 2022

Funding Swiss Governance Excellence Award

Ghana operates a dual land rights regime, but the link between administration of interests in land created through customary practice and formal titles to land is tenuous to nonexistent. This project seeks to question mainstream views on decentralization, public intervention supposed to be carried out at a level where it can most effectively address issues of local or regional relevance. The overarching hypothesis of this project is that decentralization is supposed to improve the efficiency of public intervention by empowering specific actors – influential chiefs at the expense of others poor peasant landholders. This has deep impact on the governance of natural resource, with reshuffling access rights to land. The goal is to analyze the connection between decentralization processes, local decision-making and implication on use and access rights to land. The specific aims are to connect a debate on state restructuring with resource use patterns, mediated through tenure arrangement, understand the complex links between modern state institutions and customary power; and connect these broad processes of state reorganization with sustainability and environmental justice. The new institutional and political ecology (NIPE) will be used to analyze the effects of changes on access and use of land and land related resources.

Involved Persons
  • James Natia Adam, University of Bern (PhD Project)
  • Jean-David Gerber, University of Bern
  • Tobias Haller, University of Bern (Institute of Social Anthropology)
  • Timothy Adams, University of Bern


Large-scale land acquisitions and gender in Africa: The impact of institutional change and land investments on gender relations and food security

Duration October 2014 - September 2017
Funding SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation)
Description The discussion about "Landgrabbing" focuses on the question whether such investments by agricultural companies promote or rather hinder rural development. While the companies involved emphasize the advantages of the investments, critical voices emphasize the disadvantages of the investments. These disadvantages relate to the loss of access to land and resources and to the environmental damage that reduces food security. Land rights are of central importance in African contexts. These are in the hands of governments, with use and access being regulated decentrally by male elites. This contrasts with locally defined forms of access, in which land and resources were managed collectively and women also had access via kinship systems. The new major private-law investments in land change these accesses and influence the spheres of subsistence production and food security.

In four comparative case studies in Africa (Morocco, Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia), the project aims to examine the role of large-scale investments in changing gender relations and food security. Using social anthropological and geographical qualitative research methods, the impact of land investments on gender relations will be investigated.

The project aims to close the gap in research on changing land rights and investment conditions in Africa and the related gender relations. In particular, there is a lack of case studies that address local gender perspectives. The theoretical inclusion of the neo-institutional approach, which deals with the shaping of institutions in access to resources under asymmetrical power relations and ideology that creates legitimation, is also lacking. The research promises comparative qualitative results for later quantitative research.

Involved persons
  • Jean-David Gerber, University of Bern
  • Tobias Haller, University of Bern (Institute of Social Anthropology)
  • Sonja Merten, University of Basel (Swiss TPH)
  • Timothy Adams, University of Bern
  • Désirée Gmür, University of Bern (Institute of Social Anthropology)
  • Sarah Ryser, University of Bern (Institute of Social Anthropology)


The effects of large-scale land acquisitions on households in rural communities of the Global South

Duration October 2013 - September 2015
Funding SNIS (Swiss Network for International Studies)
Description This interdisciplinary project aims to analyze the  impacts of contract farming on the local food system and its constitutive components – i.e. food production, food processing, food distribution and food consuming – with a special focus on gender relations and related decision-making processes  concerning the food system and household food security.

With the recent wave of large-scale land acquisitions (so called 'land grabbing') in developing countries, the issue of contract farming has gaimed renewed interest on the international policy agenda. While by many it is seen as having the potential to create win-win scenarios for investors and farmers alike, there is still a lack of concrete evidence outlining the impacts of contract farming arrangements for local women and men.

This interdisciplinary project aims to analyze the impacts of contract farming on the local food system and its constitutive components (i.e. food production, food processing, food distribution and food consuming) with a special focus on gender relations and related decision-making processes concerning the food system and household food security. Taking into account gender issues, the research is grounded in strong evidence for womens's critical role in the livelihood of rural families. Many studies across different developing countries show that, while men often control access and use of land, women tend to be in charge of substistence-oriented food production, preparation and household food security. Within an institutional regime framework, we will assess the influence of contract farming on local actors' configurations, strategies and decision-making within the lcoal food system, as well as the capacity of women and men to impact on household food security.

For the purposes of this project we will compare cases of contract farming in Ghana and Peru. While both countries experience high levels of food insecurity in rural areas and both governments have a keen interest in attracting foreign agricultural investment, the general social, cultural and economic structure is very different in the two countries. This choice of very different institutional settings will help us to test the general validity of our hypothesis. In both countries, we will focus on two large-scale agricultural investments that at least partly work through local outgrowers. We will conduct expert interviews with investors and other key informants (i.e. local chiefs and politicians), semi-structured interviews with a large sample of contract farmers (both women and men) and carry out gender-segregated focus group disucssions in each case study.

The research findings will serve the ongoing policy debate within many international organizations and NGO's on how to best guarantee rural people's livelihoods and food security within the context of contract farming, adding a highly important gender perspective to their deliberations.

Involved persons
  • Jean-David Gerber, University of Bern
  • Stephan Rist, University of Bern (CDE)
  • Michèle Amacker, University of Bern (IZFG)
  • Peter Knoepfel, University of Lausanne (IDHEAP)
  • Kristina Lanz, University of Bern
  • Laura Tejada, University of Bern (CDE)