Els Lecoutere, who joined IOB in 2015, studies the effect of gendered social relations, norms and preferences on economic behaviour in common pool resource settings and at the intra-household level. She approaches these topics in a multidisciplinary way, applying qualitative and quantitative methods, including experimental methods. Most of her work concentrates on East Africa.
In sub-Saharan Africa, natural resources like water sheds, forests, wetlands are often governed by the user communities. As a result of population growth, economic development and climate change, competition over common natural resources is rising which challenges the governance and equitable distribution of such resources. In rural African societies, gender and social status often define the distribution of resources like common water sheds. Together with Ben D’Exelle (University of East Anglia) and Bjorn Van Campenhout (International Food Policy Research Institute IFPRI), Els Lecoutere investigated assumptions about equitable community-led resource governance by examining the effect of gender and social status of users of semi-self governed irrigation systems in Tanzania on sharing resources in times of abundance and scarcity. One of the articles based on this research, with the title 'Sharing common resources in patriarchal and status-based societies: evidence from Tanzania' published in Feminist Economics, featured in The Economist (2015, August 29). The same article has now been included in the Sustainable Development Goals Collection of Routledge and the Taylor & Francis Group.
Another research project in this field relates to collective action at the intra-household level. Smallholder farming households in sub-Saharan Africa face collective action dilemmas when making decisions about investment in the common household farm and allocation of resources and benefits derived from it. Intra-household decision making that is cooperative and allows equitable sharing of resources and benefits is expected to increase the equity but also the sustainability and efficiency of smallholder farming. In collaboration with the Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the relation between participatory intra-household decision making, which reduces information and bargaining power asymmetries, and efficient, sustainable and equitable farming among smallholder coffee farming households in East Africa is studied. Based on a pilot study for this project, an IOB working paper has been published with the title “We’re in this together”: Changing intra-household decision making for more cooperative smallholder farming. This research project has been highlighted in the 2015 Annual Report from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in the section Integrating gender and harnessing local knowledge. Els Lecoutere was recently awarded a 24-month Marie Skłodowska-Curie individual fellowship (starting October 2016) to extend this research, with Nathalie Holvoet as the promotor.