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Module 2


This fact sheet will introduce you to the sustainable framework. The sustainable livelihoods framework1 can help to explore the linkages between agrobiodiversity, gender and local knowledge. Moreover, it will help us broaden our perspective and apply a more holistic view to these issues. This Module is mostly theoretical, but in Module 3 and 4 you will find more practical examples of issues developed here. Recent research, on traditional crops and livestock species, suggests there is a significant gap between development and research priorities and farmers' needs (Blench, 1997). One way of explaining this gap is to reflect upon the underlying viewpoints taken by these different actors. Two main perspectives can be identified, which are compared in the table below.

[Table 1]Comparison of different perspectives on agrobiodiversity
Focus is on local people and their livelihood strategiesFocus is on genetic resources and their production potential and use
Holistic in terms of understanding the purposes and functions played by agrobiodiversity in livelihood strategiesNarrow in terms of understanding and strengthening different purposes and functions of agrobiodiversity
Dynamic in terms of changing priorities and needs of different people at different timesStatic resulting from the pre-selection of priority species for improvement and conservation
Builds on people's strength, e.g. local knowledge for species selection and in situ conservation practicesDraws heavily on external knowledge and technologies for species improvement, including ex situ conservation practices
Macro-micro linkages, e.g. policy lobbying for Farmers' Rights to secure local access to genetic diversityTends to focus more on either natural resource level or policy level
Sustainability related to improved local capacities and empowerment of local peopleSustainability questionable because little attention is given to building local capacities

What is the departure point of the livelihoods perspective? The people themselves must be the main entry point for analysing the management of agrobiodiversity. If people are not the starting point, it will be difficult to come up with research and development priorities that are in line with the views of the local people. The merits of using a livelihoods perspective to understand the management of agrobiodiversity are described in more detail below:


The entry point to agrobiodiversity management is people themselves. A livelihoods perspective facilitates a more thorough analysis of different social groups, including the distribution of benefits and access to resources from a gender perspective. Adoption of a livelihoods perspective will, therefore, facilitate identification of the multiple functions and purposes agrobiodiversity plays. Be it for different social groups and different environments, it will place the food security of poor people at the centre of the discussion.


From a livelihoods perspective, agrobiodiversity management is not seen as a separate activity that aims to conserve individual species, varieties or breeds. Rather, it is seen to be part of the day-to-day livelihood strategies around the world. Farmers do not maintain agrobiodiversity for the mere purpose of conservation. They apply a more integrated and holistic perspective to the use of species, varieties and breeds within their agricultural system. Agrobiodiversity is managed by farmers, for a wide range of reasons, and the success of conservation and improvement depends on the benefits people obtain.


The use and management of agrobiodiversity is dynamic. Different components of agrobiodiversity are used by different people at various times and places, thus contributing to the development of complex livelihood strategies. Understanding how this use differs according to wealth, gender, age and ecological situation is essential to the understanding of agrobiodiversity's contribution to the livelihoods of different members in a community.


If we take a livelihoods perspective it means we focus on livelihoods' existing strengths and assets, rather than on weaknesses and needs. From a livelihoods perspective, local knowledge and genetic resources are considered important assets. The knowledge held by farmers, for example, on their local plant and livestock species is a crucial component of species selection, conservation and improvement. Local plants and animals form part of a complex agro-ecosystem; farmers have built up a significant stock of knowledge on how these have to be managed under specific conditions.


Research and development activities tend to focus on either the macro or micro level. Applying a livelihoods perspective, it is important to link these levels for the successful management of agrobiodiversity. As we have seen in Module 1.1, many factors related to the loss of agrobiodiversity are linked to the macro level. Factors contributing to the loss of agrobiodiversity include globalization of markets, funding strategies and the setting of priorities for research and development and access rights to genetic resources. On the other hand, the micro level is relevant to the consideration of agrobiodiversity as a valuable asset managed by a variety of people.


The livelihoods approach emphasizes the importance of building on existing strengths and capacities. Key aspects are the empowerment of local people through information sharing and capacity building. In addition, the negotiation of Farmers' Rights and the equitable sharing of these benefits will contribute to livelihood sustainability (see Module 4).

Overall, the livelihoods perspective is concerned first and foremost with people. An accurate and realistic understanding is sought of people's strengths (assets or capital endowments) and how they may convert these into positive livelihood outcomes. The approach is based on the belief that people require a range of assets to achieve positive livelihood outcomes. No single category of assets, on its own, is sufficient to yield the many and varied livelihood outcomes that people seek. This is particularly true for the poor whose access, to any given category of assets, tends to be very limited. They have to seek ways of nurturing and combining the assets they have in innovative ways to ensure survival.

Bean farming among the Kikuyu in Kenya provides a case in point. Available evidence indicates that, in pre-colonial times, a large variety of different bean species was cultivated in the Kenyan uplands. Beans, moreover, constituted a critical element of the diet of rural people as they furnish a rich source of protein to complement maize consumption and other available foodstuffs. In particular, the varieties of indigenous black beans named njahe in Kikuyu (Lablab niger and Dolichos lablab by their scientific names) were cultivated by women, and made up a good proportion of the harvest. Njahe had, moreover, special meaning for women, as the bean was considered to increase fertility, and to have curative virtues for post-partum mothers. It was, at the same time, a quasi-sacred food as the beans grew on the Ol Donyo Sabuk mountain, which is the second most important dwelling place of the Creator in Kikuyu religion, and was widely used in divination ceremonies. Beans in Kenya are predominantly a small landholder crop, largely farmed by women to feed their families. Traditionally, women tended to grow multiple varieties on the same field - and saved multiple seed stocks - as a hedge against disease and unpredictable climate. Furthermore, local dishes, such as githeri and irio, were based on multiple types of beans.
Source: IK Notes

The example from Kenya shows the complexity behind a simple activity such as bean growing. Women farmers try to achieve a range of different livelihood outcomes, by using a diversity of bean varieties. In this case, their bean varieties form a central asset in their livelihoods strategy. The land they use to plant these crops is another important asset, and so is their labour, which they use to manage these crops. The livelihood outcomes they achieve include food security, health issues, pest management strategies.

The livelihoods approach furthermore emphasizes the relevance of the wider context in which people's livelihoods and their assets are embedded. This is very important to bear in mind, when agrobiodiversity and its potential contribution to people's livelihoods are discussed, people's vulnerability context, existing policies, institutions and processes need to be considered as well. We must consider the different livelihood strategies and outcomes that strongly determine how these assets can be used. The figure below is a schematic view of the sustainable livelihoods framework. The terms used in this framework will now be explained and presented in more detail.

[Figure 1]Sustainable livelihoods framework2
Figure 1

The sustainable livelihoods framework presents the main factors affecting people's livelihoods, and typical relationships between these. The framework can be used in both planning new development activities and assessing the contribution to livelihood sustainability made by existing activities. In particular the framework:

The framework does not work in a linear manner and does not try to present a model of reality. Its aim is to help stakeholders, with their different perspectives, engage in structured and coherent debate of the many factors affecting livelihoods, their relative importance and the way in which they interact. In our case, the framework should help exploring linkages between agrobiodiversity, gender and local knowledge and to better understand their potential in contributing to improved livelihoods.

Livelihoods are shaped by a multitude of different forces and factors, which are themselves constantly changing. People-centred analysis is most likely to begin with the simultaneous investigation of people's assets, their objectives (the livelihoods outcomes they seek) and the livelihood strategies they adopt to achieve these objectives. Following, the terms used in the framework and their relevance will be explained.

ASSETS are what people use to gain a living. They are the core aspects of a livelihood. Assets can be classified into five types - human, social, natural, physical and financial. People will access assets in different ways, e.g. through private ownership or as customary rights for groups.

Human capital is the part of human resources that is determined by people's qualities, e.g. personalities, attitudes, aptitudes, skills, knowledge, also their physical, mental and spiritual health. Human capital is the most important, not only for its intrinsic value, but because other capital assets cannot be used without it. Like social capital, described below, it can be difficult to define and measure. For instance, the case study on bean farming in Kenya (see Box 1) shows that women's knowledge, concerning the different local bean varieties, is an important asset for household food security as well as for female health.

Social capital is that part of human resources determined by the relationships people have with others. These relationships may be between family members, friends, workers, communities and organizations. They can be defined by their purpose and qualities such as trust, closeness, strength, flexibility. Social capital is important because of its intrinsic value. This is because it increases well-being, facilitates the generation of other capital and serves to generate the framework of society in general; with its cultural, religious, political and other norms of behaviour. With agrobiodiversity, we could think of the linkages between generations that facilitate the flow of information and knowledge. Or, we could think of seed exchange strategies between households, as part of a safety-net, in case of crop losses, etc.

Natural capital is made up of the natural resources used by people: air, land, soil, minerals, water, plant and animal life. They provide goods and services, either without people's influence, (forest wildlife, soil stabilization) or with their active intervention (farm crops, tree plantations). Natural capital can be measured in terms of quantity and quality (acreage, head of cattle, diversity and fertility). Natural capital is important for its general environmental benefits, and because it is the essential basis of many rural economies, (in providing food, building material, fodder). This is probably the easiest asset to understand, because agrobiodiversity, as such, forms a natural capital.

Physical capital is derived from the resources created by people. These include buildings, roads, transport, drinking-water, electricity, communication systems and equipment and machinery that produce more capital. Physical capital is made up of producer goods and services and consumer goods that are available for people to use. Physical capital is important, because it directly meets the needs of people through provision of access to other capital via transport or infrastructure. A relevant example related to the management of agrobiodiversity is the availability of storage facilities to keep seeds from one cropping cycle to the next.

Financial capital is a specific and important part of created resources. It comprises the finance available to people in the form of wages, savings, supplies of credit, remittances or pensions. It is often, by definition, poor people's most limiting asset. Although it may be the most important, as it can be used to purchase other types of capital, and can have an influence, good and bad, over other people. With regard to agrobiodiversity, financial assets may be important in that they prevent people from having to eat, or sell all their crops and seeds, or slaughter all their livestock.


The relative amount of assets possessed, or available to an individual, will vary depending on gender, location and other factors. The pentagon diagram representing assets can be redrawn, as shown in the example, to visualize the relative amount of each capital that is available to be accessed by an individual or community. It is important to know how this access and availability varies over time.


The extent, to which people's assets can be built up, balanced; and how they contribute towards their livelihoods, depends on a range of external factors that change people's abilities to gain a living. Some of these factors will be beyond their control and may exert a negative influence. This aspect of livelihoods can be called the vulnerability context. This context must be understood, as far as possible, so as to design ways to mitigate the effects. There are three main types of change:


In addition to the factors that determine the vulnerability context, there is a range of policies, institutions and processes designed to influence people and the way they make a living. If designed well, these influences on society should be positive. However, depending on their original purpose, some people may be affected negatively.

Policies, institutions and processes, within the livelihoods framework, are the institutions, organizations, policies and legislation that shape livelihoods. Their importance cannot be over-emphasized. They operate at all levels, from the household to the international arena. They function in all spheres, from the most private to the most public. They effectively determine:

In addition, they directly impact people's feelings of inclusion and wellbeing. Because culture is included in this area, PIPs account for other unexplained differences in the way things are done in different societies.

Examples of PIPs include:


To sum up the features of livelihoods: people use assets to make a living. They cope as best they can with factors beyond their control that make their livelihoods vulnerable. They are affected by existing policies, institutions and processes, which they can partly influence themselves. There are three main types of strategies, which can be combined in multiple ways:

Recent studies have drawn attention to the enormous diversity of livelihood strategies at every level - within geographic areas, across sectors, within households and over time. This is not a question of people moving from one form of employment or “own-account” activity (farming, fishing), to another. Rather it is a dynamic process in which people combine their activities to meet their various needs at different times. A common manifestation of this, at the household level, is “straddling”, whereby different members of the household live and work in different places temporarily, e.g. seasonal migration, or permanently.


The aim of these livelihood strategies is to meet people's needs, as efficiently and effectively as possible. These needs can be expressed as desired livelihood outcomes of a chosen livelihood strategy. When considering “poor” people, there are five basic outcomes that will usually be most important to them. The priority given to each will depend on the individual's perception of his or her circumstances. They are as follows:

Key points


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 2.1 aims to introduce the livelihoods framework and to raise participants' awareness of the different assets poor people use to build their livelihoods. Furthermore, it emphasises the relevance of the vulnerability context and the linkages between the vulnerability context and the livelihoods assets.

LEARNING GOALS: The participants understand the complexity of people's livelihoods. They are able to use the livelihoods framework, as an analysis tool, to identify people's strengths and assets. Participants should be able to recognize local knowledge and agrobiodiversity as key assets of poor people's livelihoods.


  1. Depending on the available time, and interest/background of the participants the trainer, together with the participants, could either analyse the difference between the livelihoods and natural resource management approach in more detail (Step 1), or go directly to Step 2.

  1. Forming two groups, the participants should explore for themselves the meaning of a livelihoods approach, compared to a natural resource management approach. This exercise will encourage participants to reflect on their own understanding of the concepts, prior to the introduction of the livelihoods framework.

  2. The facilitator provides a short introduction of the livelihoods perspective and the livelihoods framework. Depending on the audience, s/he could either use a Power Point presentation for this purpose, or develop the framework on a large board in front of the participants. The second option is slower, and may be more suitable for participants who do not know the livelihoods framework at all. During this presentation, emphasis should be given to the relevance of the livelihoods framework for understanding the linkages between agrobiodiversity, gender and local knowledge. Afterwards a short feed-back session for clarifications should follow.

  3. After the conceptual presentation, the trainer could introduce the Mali case study (Module 5) to help participants apply the framework to a real situation. Depending on the time, and the participants' mood, the case study could either be read in small groups, or presented by the trainer. This would lead into an exercise, which is described below (see Exercise Sheet 2.1)

OUTCOME: Participants understand the main aspects and foci of the livelihood framework and are able to apply it to the management of agrobiodiversity.

TIME ALLOCATION: Minimum 4 hours.


The participants are invited to break into small groups of 4–5 people.


Using the sustainable livelihoods framework as a guide, “map” out:

  1. What are the different assets described in the case study? What degree of control do different people in the village have over them?

  2. There factors outside the immediate control of the village people, which could make them vulnerable (e.g. trends, shocks, seasons)?

  3. What policies, institutions and processes affect the current and future management of their assets?

  4. Can you identify different livelihoods strategies in the case study? What do people want to achieve with these strategies?

After this exercise is completed, the groups are invited to present their findings, and to discuss differences and similarities between them.


In fact sheet 2.1, we learned that Agrobiodiversity can be considered an important natural capital, or asset, for poor people's livelihoods, having the potential of contributing to food security and income generation. Human capital -such as local knowledge - is considered to be a livelihood asset that can contribute to different livelihood strategies. Gender roles and relations form part of the policies, institutions and processes influencing the probability that people will use their assets to achieve their desired livelihood outcomes.

The challenge, faced by us and the research and development community, is to understand the linkages and complexities between these different livelihood components. Only then can we achieve the sustainable management of agrobiodiversity and can we contribute to the improvement of livelihoods, economic development as well as the maintenance of genetic diversity and associated local knowledge.

There is sufficient evidence, from past and current experiences, that these linkages and the way they function, result in positive or negative livelihood outcomes.

In the following section, we explore the potential relationships and linkages in more detail. This section illustrates the underlying concepts of these linkages. The applied considerations are presented in Module 3 and 4.

Relationships between assets

Assets combine in a multitude of different ways to generate positive livelihood outcomes. Two types of relationships are particularly important:

This is an important question to consider, in terms of the conservation efforts employed to maintain agrobiodiversity. Is it enough to have access to a wide range of diversity? Or, do people need other types of assets to make effective use of agrobiodiversity? The short case study from Cameroon and Uganda (see Box 2) shows that the availability of a market structure is crucial to the successful selling of products. Usually, the livelihoods of poor people are quite complex and draw on very different resources for their survival. Therefore, it seems unlikely that only one type of asset will be sufficient to make a living. Moreover, increasing evidence suggests that access to information, knowledge and market infrastructure are important factors governing the successful management of agrobiodiversity. In Module 4 we will discuss in more detail, the relevance of local knowledge to the sustainable management of agrobiodiversity.

Existing research and development results show that poor people especially depend on natural capital. The possibility of their replacing the loss of diversity with other types of assets is extremely limited. However, this question cannot be answered in general terms and depends very much on individual or case specific conditions. For example, if there are alternative employment possibilities outside the agricultural sector, people having the relevant skills could move away from agriculture to other sectors.

Relationships with other framework components

Relationships within the livelihood framework are highly complex. Understanding them is a major challenge, and a core step in the process of livelihoods analysis, leading to actions to eliminate poverty.

However, this is not a simple one-way relationship. Individuals and groups themselves influence policies, institutions and processes. Generally speaking, the greater people's asset endowment, the more influence they can exert. Hence, one way to achieve empowerment may be to support people in building up their assets.

The following short example illustrates most of the issues mentioned above. It shows how a natural asset (indigenous vegetables) is used to contribute to various desired livelihood outcomes. It also illustrates that the existence of certain infrastructure (markets) is required to successfully carry out a particular livelihood strategy (in this case the marketing of these vegetables). Furthermore, it shows that trends, such as the increasing production of exotic vegetables, do not necessarily negatively affect this livelihood strategy.

In Cameroon and Uganda indigenous vegetables play an important role, in both income generation and subsistence production. Indigenous vegetables offer a significant opportunity for the poorest people to earn a living, as producers and/or traders, without requiring a large capital investment. These vegetables are an important commodity in poor households. This is because their prices are relatively affordable, compared with other food items. Arguably, the indigenous vegetable market is one of the few opportunities for poor, unemployed women to earn a living. Despite the growth in exotic vegetable production, indigenous vegetables remain popular, especially in rural areas, where they are often considered to be more tasty and nutritious than exotic vegetables. Indigenous vegetables often have a ceremonial role, and are an essential ingredient in traditional dishes.
Source: Schippers

Linkages between policies, institutions and processes within the framework

The influence of PIPs extends throughout the framework:

Key points


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 2.2 aims to introduce the linkages between different livelihood components. It shows the need to consider agrobiodiversity within a complex framework in order to understand the linkages between agrobiodiversity, gender and local knowledge.

LEARNING GOALS: Participants are aware of the relevance of different types of linkages and are able to use the livelihoods framework as an analysis tool.


  1. The starting point for this session could be a brief presentation by the trainer. The content of the session is theoretical and may require a guided introduction.

    1. If time is limited, the trainer could refer to the Mali case study to explore the issues presented in fact sheet 2.2.

    2. If sufficient time is available, the participants could form small groups and develop country scenarios of situations, in which people base their livelihoods on the management of agrobiodiversity. It is important to include local knowledge and gender roles and relations as part of these scenarios. These scenarios could then be used to develop the conceptual issues presented in fact sheet 2.2.

  2. Exercise 2.2 focuses on the impact of policies, institutions and processes on different components within the livelihood framework. Depending on the time allocation, the participants could either work on the Mali case study, or on their own country scenarios to develop the exercise (see Exercise Sheet 2.2).

  3. The results of the working groups would be brought back to the plenary. They would then be presented in the form of a podium discussion. It is important to suggest different presentation and feedback mechanisms. This makes the discussion more lively and interesting.

OUTPUT: The participants have explored the utility of the livelihood framework. They now understand the complexity of agrobiodiversity management and the linkages to other livelihood components.

TIME ALLOCATION: Minimum time allocation is 3 hours. If country scenarios are to be developed and used for the exercise, then the minimum is 5 hours.



  1. Please take some time, as a group, to read through the relevant parts of fact sheet 2.1 and 2.2 on policies, institutions and processes.

  2. Break up into three groups. Identify examples of policies, institutions and processes, within the context of agrobiodiversity management, that impact upon (Group 1) the vulnerability context, (Group 2) livelihood assets and (Group 3) livelihood strategies and outcomes.

  3. Use the scenario, developed in this session, as a starting point for your discussion. Please feel free to go beyond this scenario and draw on your own experiences within your work context.



Anderson, S. 2003. Sustaining livelihoods through animal genetic resources conservation. In Conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. Published by CIP-UPWARD in partnership with GTZ, IDRC, IPGRI and SEARICE.

Blench, R. 1997. Neglected Species, Livelihoods and Biodiversity in difficult areas: How should the public sector respond? London, ODI Natural Resource Perspective Paper 23.

Ghotge, N. & Ramdas, S. 2003. Livestock and livelihoods (Paper 24). In Conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity, published by CIP-UPWARD in partnership with GTZ, IDRC, IPGRI and SEARICE.

IK Notes, No 23. August 2000. Seeds of life: Women and agricultural biodiversity in Africa.

Livelihood fact sheet, United Kingdom, Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich.

Schippers, R. 1999. Indigenous vegetable becoming more popular in Central Africa, ph Action News, No. 1, IITA.

Web sites
DFID Web site on Sustainable Livelihoods:

1 This fact sheet is based on the Sustainable Livelihoods Guidance Sheets from DFID, which can be accessed at

2 This diagram is based on the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) Livelihoods fact sheet

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