• Ethiopia;
  • indigenous knowledge;
  • local institutions;
  • social capital;
  • wetland management

Local community based institutions that coordinate the management of natural resources have been linked to socioecological resilience, adaptation and sustainability within rural livelihood systems throughout the developing world. The resilience and sustainability of related local institutions, however, is influenced by their relationship with external actors and institutions, particularly in facilitating, supporting or hindering local institutional arrangements. From this standpoint, this paper examines the case of local community based institutions involved in wetland management in western Ethiopia. Drawing upon the findings of participatory fieldwork undertaken in eight wetland-using communities of Illubabor and Western Wellega zones in Oromia Region it is argued that although local institutions do play a key role in coordinating wetland management and sustaining the benefits from wetlands, the sustainability and resilience of the institutions themselves is threatened by a range of factors. Despite their grassroots nature, their effectiveness is influenced by their reliance on local government backstopping that appears to have diminished in recent years, as well as a perceived lack of local government support for collective action over individual rights.