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Sustaining Rural Livelihoods in Upper Svaneti, Republic of Georgia

This dissertation explores the impacts of state-‐imposed development on rural communities and their environment in the mountainous district of Upper Svaneti in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Analyzing these effects is particularly salient as developing countries attempt to attract foreign investment with the option to liquidate natural capital, the wealth and power divide between urban and rural regions widens, and the world is struggles to respond to the global environmental challenges of climate change and biodiversity conservation. The forests, household livelihoods, cultural heritage and traditional property regimes of Upper Svaneti are now under threat by two state-‐led developments: first, by land acquisitions for the construction of a commercial ski tourism zone; and second, by revisions to the Forest Code that will allow the state to grant 49-‐year concessions to forests and their underground water and mineral resources. During six months of fieldwork over the summer and fall of 2011, I collected data through 250 household surveys, in-‐depth interviews with villagers and government officials, and analysis of archival materials and policy documents. This dissertation follows a three-‐essay format. The first essay measures household dependence on common pool resources (CPRs) and property under traditional private ownership. I find that low-‐income households are especially dependent on threatened CPRs, as are households in villages at a greater distance from market centers. I conclude that income from new wage employment in the tourism and timber industries is not a sufficient substitute for prospective losses in CPR-‐based income, due to the importance of diversified livelihood strategies for managing risk, the value of maintaining traditional governance structures and ecosystem functions, the limited substitutability of CPR goods, and the diminishing purchasing power of wage income. I argue that if development trajectories are to create a pathway out of poverty for local communities, they must create new income opportunities that do not limit local access to natural resources or degrade the environment. The second essay utilizes elements of the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework pioneered by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues to map governance systems and characteristics of forest users in two villages in the Upper Svaneti district. First, I trace the institutional history of the two villages from the formation of traditional self-‐governance structures prior to the Soviet period, to collectivization and state control during the Soviet era, through the post-‐Soviet transition to current structures and policies. I then detail the interactions between government and non-‐governmental organizations, property rights systems, and monitoring and sanctioning processes. I evaluate the attributes of forest users, including their socioeconomic characteristics, history of forest use, social capital, environmental values, and the importance of forest resources in livelihoods. I compare the results against indicators for successful community forest management (CFM) regimes identified in a recent meta analysis in order to identify both the strengths of the region in its ability to support CFM initiatives and the processes that are inhibiting their emergence. I find that the forest users exhibit many of the characteristics associated with successful CFM, but that the legal framework for forest ownership and financial incentives for regional and state officials are obstructing decentralization. Intervention by the international community could help to support communities in establishing ownership rights over village forests and to change the existing incentive structure facing government officials. The third essay explores how households plan to respond to the “peasant dilemma” presented by the introduction of the ski tourism zone: the choice between maintaining pre-‐modern agricultural practices, on the one hand, or participating in new wage employment or to embarking on new self-‐enterprise opportunities, such as opening a guesthouse or small business, on the other. Distinguising between the progressive and regressive, I analyze how changes in livelihood strategies are likely to affect collective action for CFM, opportunities for female-‐headed households, and wealth inequality. I find that households prefer to allocate labor toward starting a small business over participating in wage employment, that there are negative relationships between wage employment and support for CFM and between political connectedness and support for CFM, but a positive relationship between dependence on CPRs and support for CFM. For these reasons, commercial tourism development can be expected to erode possibilities for successful CFM. Meanwhile, the majority of female-‐headed households, particularly those in villages outside the administrative capital, are unlikely to benefit from the development, and both inter-‐ and intra-‐village wealth inequalities are likely to increase. My findings suggest that an alternative development approach, such as ecotourism based on establishing a Protected Area, that emphasizes small-‐scale business, retains traditional subsistence practices, supports CFM, and provides equal opportunity for households across the district, would be more socially desirable than the development trajectory that is currently planned.