Social-ecological feedbacks lead to unsustainable lock-in in an inland fishery

Sarah Laborde, Alfonso Fernández, Sui Chian Phang, Ian M. Hamilton, Nathaniel Henry, Hahn Chul Jung, Aboukar Mahamat, Mouadjamou Ahmadou, Bruno K. Labara, Saïdou Kari, Michael Durand, Bryan Mark, Paul Scholte, Ningchuan Xiao, Roland Ziebe, Mark Moritz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This interdisciplinary paper presents an empirical analysis of techno-institutional lock-in in a regional fishery, in the Logone floodplain in the Far North Region of Cameroon. In the Logone floodplain, one fishing technique is spreading exponentially even though it is changing the social, hydrological and ecological dynamics of the system in ways that are largely considered problematic by local communities. We use a complex systems framework to analyze large hydrological and socio-economic datasets. Results show how social-ecological feedbacks foster the spread of the technique and contribute to the process of lock-in. The lock-in leads to a resistance to change despite awareness of the technique's impact, a situation that may also be described as a social-ecological trap. We identify and explain four kinds of positive feedback loops relating to socio-economic, behavioral, demographic and hydrological processes, respectively. We also identify possible solutions that consider the complexity of the feedback loops across multiple dimensions of the floodplain system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Nov 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research for this article was financially supported by the National Science Foundation, Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program (grant number BCS-1211986 ). We want to thank the organizers and participants of the two following seminars for critically engaging with the ideas underpinning this paper: (1) Complexity Institute and Asian School of the Environment seminar, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (March 2015), and (2) SH-EAU seminar, G-EAU laboratory, Montpellier, France (December 2015). We are very grateful to all CARPA members and students from the Higher Institute of the Sahel in Maroua, who have helped conducting the surveys, and to fishers and their families from the Logone floodplain who took part in the research. We also thank two anonymous reviewers who provided very helpful feedback on the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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