A tale of two associations: institutions and governance of the green economy

Written by Frances Cleaver and Brock Bersaglio

In Ukwavila Village, situated in Tanzania’s Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGCOT) and bordering Ruaha National Park, two new organisations have been established in the last few years. One is an Irrigators Cooperative and the other is a Pastoralist Association. In this blog we use brief vignettes of these organisations, derived from initial fieldwork, to think through the relationship between the emergence and functioning of institutions, green economy interventions and the actions of local people.

The Irrigators Cooperative

In 2016, a group of farmers in Ukwavila Village formally registered themselves as an Irrigators Cooperative in line with recent national legislation. Their certificate of registration is proudly displayed on the wall of their office, which is located next door to the village government office. The Village Chairman initiated the idea of the Cooperative and was active in the process of mobilizing people to both form and register the organisation, and in the election of the governing committee. The District Cooperative Officer and the Agricultural Extension Officer also played a role in mobilization and the organization is formally registered under the Irrigation Act of 2013. The Cooperative holds a water permit from the Rufiji Basin Water Office (which allows them to abstract the water from the river) and payment of this is covered by membership fees.

During a trip to Ukwavila Village in August 2017, the farmers told us that they were motivated to create the Irrigators Cooperative in anticipation that formal government recognition would lead to a number of benefits. These include subsidized agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilisers, pesticides), and inclusion in SAGCOT-related activities aimed at improving the rice value chain, such as agriculture extension and training, the construction of infrastructure like warehouses, and access to machinery, loans, and insurance.

At the time of our visit, few of the farmers’ anticipated benefits had materialised. The irrigation canals were unlined, poor roads and bridges meant that fields were inaccessible to agricultural machinery, and the farmers were still storing their rice in a private warehouse with inadequate capacity.

The Pastoralist Association


Next door to the Irrigators Cooperative is the office of Ukwavila’s Pastoralist Association, which was formally registered in 2013 in response to a national initiative of the Tanzania Pastoralists Association (TPA). Representatives of the TPA were instrumental in mobilizing the villagers and in supporting their registration. The village association was inaugurated during an official ceremony attended by the District Executive Officer and other district officials. The District Livestock Officer and the Livestock Field Officer based in the village also play a supervisory role in the operation of the association.

According to the pastoralists, they were motivated to form the association because of anticipated benefits, such as: access to government services in support of livestock keeping (e.g. veterinary services, cattle dips and troughs, and extension services), the creation of a united voice for pastoralists across different ethnic groups, and the establishment of an official channel for resolving farmer-pastoralist conflicts.

In August 2017, few of these benefits had materialized and the pastoralists were facing fundamental problems of securing areas to graze their cattle in the face of expanding conservation initiatives (especially the extension of Ruaha National Park) and the expansion and intensification of irrigated agriculture into areas previously used for grazing.

These short sketches of two recently formalized organisations in Ukwavila Village raise a number of questions about how institutions work to shape how different members of village engage with the green economy and to what effect? Drawing on an institutional bricolage perspective, we briefly consider the following three points: (1) how legitimacy and social fit is created; (2) how power works, and (3) the co-existence of multiple agendas and logics.

Legitimacy and social fit

Bricolage theory suggests that for institutions to work, they must be seen as legitimate and relate to already accepted social orders and sources of authority (Douglas 1987). In both of he above cases, the newly formed organisations draw on legitimising devices derived from legal and governmental sources, such as registration documents, constitutions, committee structures and roles and office buildings. However, if these institutions are to gain social embeddedness and durability in their particular milieu they also need to draw on ‘institutional furniture’ built of traditions, existing social organisations, and perceived ‘right ways’ of doing things.

For example, the farmers invoked their previous, decades-long, informal approach to social organisation – in particular, to the practice of calling people together for collective action to maintain the canals. The pastoralists, on the other hand, saw their registered association as the evolution of a previous ‘unregistered union’ based on traditional forms of organization for Sukuma peoples, likely to be the hybrid vigilante/welfare groups known as SunguSungu. (In previous decades these, originally ethnically based groups of young men guarding cattle had been adapted drawn upon by village governments across rural areas of Tanzania to effect village defence and security obligations.) Such calls on tradition, while adapted to fit new purposes (e.g. an explicitly multi-ethnic approach to pastoralist organisation) provide discursive legitimacy for the new arrangements and bestow a sense of social fit rather than an imposition of something new.

Authority and power

None of these elements of institutional furniture and functioning are neutral – all of them relate to particular relationships of authority and power. As such, they may perpetuate unequal social relationships and resource allocations both at the village level and in society more widely. For example, it may be no accident that, although we were assured that women held positions in the Irrigators Cooperative, none were present at our meetings. And whilst the pastoralists assured us that their association was multi-ethnic, representatives from particular ethnic groups (Maasai and Mang’ati) did not attend.

These formal institutional arrangements can, therefore, be understood as technologies of government, clearly shaping the ways in which local people come to understand and engage with national policies and priorities. Of particular relevance are national polices promoting agricultural intensification through climate smart agriculture and conservation through the expansion of protected areas, forests, and eco-tourism initiatives. However, within such policies, irrigation farmers and pastoralists are treated rather differently and formal institutional structures work differently for these two groups. For example, through their Cooperative, irrigation farmers are encouraged to become incorporated into intensified agricultural production, with significant material and financial resource allocations potentially available to enable them if they do so. By contrast, the Pastoralist Association can be seen as part of broader efforts to push pastoralists into modernized cattle production (involving low herd numbers and zero grazing). However, resources are not significantly allocated to support this and the emphasis both in policy and practice is more on disciplining pastoralists by specifying grazing areas, carrying capacity, and herd size, as well as destocking and branding cattle to restrict movement within the district.

Significantly, pastoralists, who are under constant threat of eviction and are often constructed in local and national discourses as badly behaved immigrants, emphasised the contributions their Association was making to village welfare. They had funded a solar panel for the village dispensary and paid for construction and maintenance of the primary school. By contrast the members of the Irrigators Cooperative did not seem to feel the need to assert their good citizenship in the same way, being already privileged in terms of policy discourses and allocations.

The illustrations suggest that the incorporation of pastoralists into formal institutional arrangements is likely to be on unequal terms, given prevailing national and regional discourses and priorities. This raises an interesting question as to why pastoralists willingly enter into institutional arrangements on adverse terms. One answer is offered by the idea that, given the embedding of livelihoods in social life, inclusion in unequal social relationships (at village level, between pastoralists and irrigators, or in a multi-ethnic association) is preferable to social exclusion (Ferguson 2015, Cleaver 2018, Schnegg, Bollig and Linke 2016). Another is that the institutional arrangements also serve other functions than those for which they were designed, as hinted at by the claims of good citizenship through the funding of public goods.

Multiple logics and other agendas.

From an institutional bricolage perspective, institutions designed for one purpose, may well embody other agendas, logics, and perspectives. Plurality in governance arrangements can be seen in a number of dimensions – for example, the multiplexity of stakeholders with complex identities and interests; the variety of laws, rules and procedures which can be invoked; or competing and overlapping resource use and values. In the cases of the irrigators and pastoralists organizations, we can speculate that there are a number of agendas of those who participate, in addition to the official goals of the organization.

For example, the primary and stated priority for the irrigators organisation was engagement with agricultural intensification initiatives (in alignment with government policy). However, their irrigation canals extend within the boundaries of Ruaha National Park and, despite a formal prohibition, farmers continue to cultivate there. The fact that they have a recognised organisation and a water right allocated by the Rufiji Basin Water Office surely helps them in their attempts to secure continued access to the Park. In fact, in the context of ongoing high-profile negotiations about the boundaries, some district government officials hinted that the park borders may have to be shifted to decriminalise those living and farming there.

Perhaps more significantly for the pastoralists, a sub-text of their willingness to engage in a formalized institution could be to legitimise their claims to live and graze in the village on the border of the national park. Two pastoralist hamlets and the grazing area of the village currently exist partly within the park boundaries and are under threat of removal. It is possible that pastoralists see the formal Association as a way of resisting or negotiating their eviction and lending weight to their attempts to get proper allocations of suitable grazing land in other areas of the village.

These local institutions will of course continue to evolve and the effects of their functioning on management and access to resources, and on village level governance remains to be seen. We look forward to exploring these cases further to better understand how such institutions shape, and are shaped by, the green economy and people’s reactions to it.


Cleaver F (2018) Everyday Water Injustice and the Politics of Accommodation, chapter in R. Boelens, T Perreault and J Vos (eds) Water Justice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Douglas M (1987) How Institutions Think, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul

Ferguson J (2015) Give a man a fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution, Duke University |Press,

 Schnegg , M. , Bollig , M. and Linke , T. ( 2016 ). Moral equality and success of common poolwater governance in Namibia . Ambio  , 45 ( 5 ), 581–90 .


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