At the opening ceremony of the conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), at the impressive Domkerk in Utrecht, the IASC president, John Powell, presented the Elinor Ostrom award on collective governance of the commons (the practitioners’ award) to Pedro Agustín Medrano of the Asociación Forestal de Soria. This is a province in Spain, north-east of Madrid.
The award was in recognition of some of the innovative work currently being undertaken to manage the commons resources of the Spanish forests. This is the same award which the Open Spaces Society won in 2013.
The Award, was created to honour and develop the legacy of Elinor Ostrom. It aims to acknowledge and promote the work of practitioners (campaigners), young scholars, and senior scholars who are involved in the field of the commons.
Presenting the award to Pedro, John explained that Asociación Forestal de Soria was set up in 1988, to provide support for forest commons in the province of Soria, Spain. The forest commons were originally used by local inhabitants, but then were sold by the government between 1855 and 1924 to individuals and became part of big estates; the villagers were disenfranchised and the commons were abandoned.
The Asociación developed a new governance approach, whereby local communities collectively bought the commons and now manage them through co-ownership and self-government. In 2003 the Asociación was instrumental in the adoption of legislation and the organisation now works in partnership with the Spanish Ministry of the Environment to manage the commons for the benefit of local people, securing access to the commons for the long term.
The Asociación has shown great tenacity and ingenuity in achieving this new governance model, overcoming significant opposition. It is an example of a new form of collaboration and institutional design that today represents more than 10,000 people holding 80,000 hectares of forest land. The project has fundamentally affected people’s lives and has reunited them with their commons.
Roll of paper
Pedro had with him and impressive roll of paper on which were listed all those who had rights on the commons in one community, with the first generation in the left-hand column, and successive generations in the columns on the rights.
The roll itself extended for a whole room. It was easy to see how abandonment had led to fewer people on the commons in the current generation.
It is an emotive document, and one which generates family stories; Pedro explained how the children were fascinated by it and wanted to learn about their predecessors.
Pedro says that, since he posted the story about the award on the association’s website he has had over 60,000 ‘likes’. That’s quite an achievement.