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The Sustainable Livelihoods approach has been explained and expanded upon by several authors (Carney, Ashley, etc) so this report will not go into much detail on the approach itself here. Rather, there will simply be a brief synopsis of the main principles underlying the approach, noting its inclusion within the FAO as an increasingly important aspect of its rural development programmes. This will be followed by a review of the various ways in which the approach has been used in the field and a run down of some of the criticisms levelled at it.

1.1 The Central Tenets of the SL Approach

The Sustainable Livelihoods approach is noted[2] as aiming “to promote development that is sustainable not just ecologically, but also institutionally, socially and economically and to produce genuinely positive livelihood outcomes”. This is to be achieved through a variety of approaches, sharing the following elements:

- People-centred

- Responsive and participatory

- Multi-level

- Conducted in partnership

- Sustainable, with the four key dimensions of sustainability being economic, institutional, social and environmental

- Dynamic

Included within this is the notion of the pentagon of five capital assets that are available to rural people[3]:

Figure 1.1: The Pentagon of Assets

Singh and Gilman use the following diagram to illustrate the community assets that are vital to the SL framework[4]:

Figure 1.2: Community Assets as an Entry-Point for SL

The FAO’s Medium Term Plan includes a commitment to include the SL approaches in its future work in the area of rural development. The objectives of the Plan are thus noted as being:

1. To improve the effectiveness of national policies and programmes aimed at strengthening the contribution of local institutions to rural livelihoods and assisting vulnerable populations

2. Foster local institutions and attendant organisational capacity for improving rural livelihoods and ensuring equitable access to resources

3. Strengthen links of local institutions where appropriate to regional, national and international institutions.

As such, it is clear that within the FAO there appears to be a genuine commitment to the use of Sustainable Livelihoods in the search for successful rural development projects, with a particular emphasis being placed upon capacity building of local institutions and the empowerment of local populations through their participation in development planning processes.

1.2 The SL Approach in the Field

Baumann[5] examines the use of SL approaches in two districts in India, Dehradun (Uttar Pradesh) and Rayagada (Orissa). Regarding this, she emphasises the need for Sustainable Livelihoods to incorporate political capital as an endogenous asset within the livelihoods framework. This is seen as of central importance in terms of ensuring local participation and empowerment, such that she comments that changes in local power structures are going to find themselves in opposition to local elites, such that SLAs may face considerable resistance when there are attempts to organise the local population into groups for changing local access to resources. In this way, the inclusion of political capital would allow for a clearer distinction within the framework between operational and technical factors (resolved through institutional innovation within the current political system), those that are legislative, and those that are political (where politically induced constraints are preventing the successful working of projects). This is further developed in this report, particularly as regards the Latin American context, and has also been the subject of discussion within the consultants’ meetings.

Figure 1.1: A Women’s Group Meeting to Discuss their Objectives; Orissa, India[6]

Photo: Katia Dini

Ashley[7] uses the SL framework to explore the links between rural livelihoods and common property resource management (CPRM), focusing on the influence of CPRMs on livelihoods and vice versa. Within this, three examples are examined from Namibia:

- The first focuses on participatory planning of wildlife use with communities, also known as the WILD project - Wildlife Integration for Livelihood Diversification. The project facilitated participatory livelihoods analysis and land use planning, with continuous feedback of lessons into the community and other communities interested in the project. As such, livelihoods analysis was seen as an intrinsic part of the project, rather than simply a stage within it.

- The second was using an understanding of livelihood strategies to enhance the community-based natural resource management program. The main focus was on building institutional capacity for CPRM. As a by-product, the project also identified the factors affecting people’s participation in the program.

- The final Namibian example reviewed assessed the impact of tourism development from a livelihoods perspective. As such, the aim was to assess how tourism development impacts upon the different aspects of rural livelihoods, using the SL framework as an analytical checklist.

A fourth example was taken from Kenya with an assessment of the livelihoods impact of wildlife enterprises, aiming to identify how such enterprises are contributing to development and conservation.

Overall, Ashley[8] found that the impacts of the above programmes on rural people’s assets are of primary importance and that such analyses can assist in a wider understanding of why it is that some groups participate and others do not. Such a finding would appear to have the possibility of uncovering, in the situation in Peru[9] as outlined in the Latin American section, why it was that indigenous populations were not keen to participate and how this may be altered.

Ashley and Hussein[10] used the livelihoods approach to evaluate and assess wildlife preservation projects in terms of their impact on the livelihoods of rural people. Their analysis can be seen to highlight, as one of the weaknesses of the SL approaches, the risk of over-reliance on the SL framework, which leads to a failure to overtly address issues of politics, empowerment, gender relations, etc. This would seem to confirm the conclusions of Baumann[11], Marzetti[12], Bebbington[13], etc.

Carney and Drinkwater explore use of the SL approaches in different development organisations[14], and some lessons were drawn as regards the practical use of SLAs. For example, CARE International highlighted the importance of ensuring that the livelihoods approach does not appear to be a ‘headquarters driven’ initiative, which can often lead to doubting voices coming from the field. This could be hugely important for FAO to recognise as it begins its introduction of SL approaches. The approach working groups set up by the consultants, and any collaboration with staff in the field in developing the approach are likely to overcome this potential problem area. CARE also emphasised the need to use a ‘light’ framework to ensure simplicity in the field, which was echoed by Lopez Ornat[15] in his work on sustainable development in Latin America. DfID noted that it is not necessary that there be a wholesale abandonment of sector-based approaches for SL projects to be introduced. Thus, there is recognition that SLAs can be successful when run along sector lines, as has been noted in the Gestion de terroirs literature.

Farrington et al[16] attempt to bring the SL literature into a practical setting, noting the usage of the approaches so far in the field. Here they simply reiterate the findings of Ashley[17] and Ashley and Hussein[18] in their work in Namibia and Kenya. Within this discussion, they note that the SL framework is not to be used in isolation and is intended, rather, as a tool to design projects, bringing together different perspectives contributing to a people-centred approach. This serves to underline the necessity of the current work being done in the Livelihood Support Program’s sub-program 2.2, on People-Centred Approaches in Different Development Contexts, regarding the existence of SL type approaches in different cultural contexts. In this way, it is recognised that the SL framework is not meant to replace other approaches, but rather to build on them.

[2] Ashley, C.; Hussein, K. (2000) Working Paper 129: Developing Methodologies for Livelihood Impact Assessment,p.14
[3] Slides from de Satgé, R. Examining the DfID Sustainable Livelihoods Framework: Concepts and Critiques
[4] Adapted from Singh, N. and Gilham, J. Employment and Natural Resources Management: A Livelihoods Approach to Poverty Reduction SEPED Conference Paper Series No.5, p.5
[5] Baumann, P. (2000) Working Paper 136: Sustainable Livelihoods and Political Capital: Arguments and Evidence from Decentralisation and Natural Resource Management in India
[6] Taken from IFAD media base:
[7] Ashley, C. (2000) Working Paper 134: Applying Livelihoods Approaches to Natural Resource Management Initiatives
[8] Ashley, C. (2000) Working Paper 134: Applying Livelihoods Approaches to Natural Resource Management Initiatives
[9] Lopez Ornat, A. (1996) Strategies for Sustainability: Latin America
[10] Ashley, C.; Hussein, K. (2000) Developing Methodologies for Livelihood Impact Assessment
[11] Baumann, P. (2000) ibid., Baumann, P. (2002) The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach and Improving Access to Natural Resources for the Rural Poor
[12] Manzetti, G. (2001) Brazilianising the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach
[13] Bebbington, A, (1998) “Capitals and Capabilities”
[14] Carney, D.; Drinkwater, M.; Rusinow, T. et al (1999) Livelihood Approaches Compared
[15] Lopez Ornat, A. (1996), Strategies for Sustainability
[16] Farrington, J.; Carney, D.; Ashley, C.; Turton, C. (1999) Sustainable Livelihoods in Practice
[17] Ashley, C. (2000) Working Paper 134: Applying Livelihoods Approaches to Natural Resource Management Initiatives
[18] Ashley, C.; Hussein, K. (2000) Developing Methodologies for Livelihood Impact Assessment

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