Common and Privatized: Conditions for Wise Management of Matsutake Mushrooms in Northwest Yunnan Province, China


Since Hardin’s (1968) paper on the “Tragedy of the Commons,” property rights of common- pool resources have been a central concern for natural resource management scholars. Matsutake, a common-pool resource, is an economically important mushroom in several locations around the world. Driven by growing international demand over the last few decades, matsutake management is a relatively new practice both for local communities and government agencies. In Northwest Yunnan, China, one of the most productive areas for matsutake globally, numerous local practices and systems have emerged in the last two to three decades. In this study, we investigate the differences between management systems in eight communities and the factors associated with them. The methods used for field research included key-informant interviews, household surveys, and questionnaires. Three main management patterns were identified through use of statistical clustering based on indicators such as physical environment, resource characteristics, tenure arrangements, regulations and implementation, harvesting behavior, income, and market regulation. It was found that private access—the principal characteristic of which is the exclusive use of resources—results in more income at lower labor cost per household than either of the other open- access management patterns. Even though under the context of ongoing Second Forest Tenure Reform in China—in which collective forest privatization is the key task—application of private-access regimes is limited because of site conditions including physical, institutional, and market environments. Common- access management systems have advantages in terms of managing conflict and balancing equity needs. No matter the type of access right, the key issue for wise matsutake management is institutional. Locally rooted innovative strategies should be encouraged, and institutional capacity building should be carried out.

Ecology & Society, 14(2), 1-21
Brian E Robinson
Brian E Robinson
Associate Professor

My research interests include land systems, social-ecological policy, and statistics.