Designed to the help people living in many of the poorest areas of India realise and exercise their rights, the PACS Programme has shifted its focus to promote livelihood options for the poor.
This backgrounder, based on various DFID publications, explains the key concepts related to devising and implementing a livelihood strategy for poverty reduction.
Definition of livelihood
The term 'livelihood' can be broadly defined as the capabilities, assets (including non- material resources) and activities required for a means of living.
While the above definition includes socially or environmentally harmful activities, the aim of poverty-reduction programmes should be to create and strengthen sustainable livelihood opportunities.
A livelihood is sustainable when:
- It can cope with and recover from external stresses and shocks such as natural disasters; seasonal shifts in prices, employment opportunities and food availability; and market trends.
- It can maintain or increase its capabilities and assets.
- It is not dependent on external support that itself is economically and institutionally not sustainable.
- It maintains the long-term productivity of natural resources.
- It does not destroy other livelihoods.
Livelihood and right-based approaches
The PACS Programme stems from the UK Government’s 1997 White Paper, which commits DFID to promoting rights-based approaches to development. `Rights’ include political as well as economic, social and rights. Programmes based on a rights-based approach are concerned with empowerment of the poor, especially the most socially excluded sections, and increasing their participation in development processes.
This approach complements a focus on livelihoods as many of the goals are the same. For example, in both approaches, one of the basic objectives is empowerment of the most vulnerable sections of the community and strengthening the capacity of the poor to achieve secure livelihoods.
The primary focus of the rights perspective is on linkages between public institutions and all citizens, and on increasing the accountability of public institutions. In the livelihoods approach too these links are recognised. However, the starting point is an understanding of the livelihoods of the poor. From this understanding, one tries to identify the constraints that prevent the realisation of people’s rights and consequently the improvement of their livelihoods.
A livelihoods approach has to be based on five basic principles:
- It has to be people-centred. People – rather than the resources they use or the governments that serve them –should be the priority concern. The livelihoods approach should work to support people to achieve their own livelihood goals, taking into account considerations regarding sustainability.
- It has to be holistic, in the sense that it should recognise people adopt multiple livelihood strategies, in an environment with multiple influences and multiple actors.
- It has to recognise that people’s livelihoods and the institutions that shape them are highly dynamic. Hence, the approach has to be also dynamic, with inbuilt mechanisms to understand and learn from change.
- It should build on strengths - the inherent potential of people, their social networks, their access to physical resources and infrastructure and their ability to influence core institutions. A key objective should be to remove the constraints to the realisation of the potential of people.
- It should establish and strengthen macro-micro links—it should work to influence higher level policy development and planning by lessons learnt at the local level. This will give local people a stake in policy and increase overall effectiveness of the approach.
Conflict between sustainability and livelihood outcomes
When we recognise the holistic nature of livelihoods and the multiple dimensions of sustainability, tensions between dimensions of sustainability and livelihood outcomes are inevitable.
The following are some of the types of tension that may arise in a livelihood-focussed programme:
- conflict between locally identified needs and concerns about environmental sustainability
- conflict between maximising production in the short term and guarding against vulnerability to external shocks in the longer term; and
- conflict between the achievements of one individual, household or community and the availability of the same livelihood opportunities to others.
There are no simple solutions to these conflicts. However, potential conflicts need to be explicitly discussed with the community before a livelihood strategy is implemented.
Types of assets required
People require a range of assets to achieve positive livelihood outcomes. No single category of assets—such as land or money—is sufficient to provide everyone a sustainable livelihood. People need:
- Human capital, which means skills, knowledge, ability to work and good health.
- Social capital, which refers to social resources like formal and informal networks or groups and established relations of trust and exchange.
- Natural capital or natural resources like land, water and forests.
- Physical capital, which refers to energy, transport and other infrastructure.
- Financial capital, which includes loans, savings and other liquid assets like livestock and gold.
Financial capital not enough
Financial capital alone cannot help poor people generate a sustainable livelihood because:
- They may lack required knowledge (human capital).
- They may lack required natural resources (natural capital).
- They may be constrained by inadequate energy supply or transport services (physical capital).
- They may not enjoy the trust of people they have to deal with (social capital).
Further, financial capital tends to be the least available to the poor. Indeed, it is because of low financial capital that other types of capital are so important to them.
Hence, while developing a livelihood strategy, it is essential to analyze the capital base of the people in each of the above areas in depth.
Analysing human capital
The following types of questions are likely to be important when thinking about human capital:
- How complex is the local environment? (The more complex the problems, the greater the importance of knowledge).
- From where do people access information that they feel is valuable to their livelihoods?
- Which groups, if any, are excluded from accessing these sources?
- Is there a tradition of local innovation? Are technologies in use from ‘internal’ or ‘external’ sources?
- Do people feel that they are particularly lacking in certain types of information?
- How aware are people of their rights and of the policies, legislation and regulation that impact on their livelihoods? If they do consider themselves aware, how accurate is their understanding?
Analysing social capital
Levels of social capital are hard to gauge. They may become clear only after lengthy analysis, which may be beyond project/programme resources. In any case, it is difficult to quantify social capital. For example, simply counting the number of groups in a community is not likely to yield a measure of social capital; the nature of each group and the strength and quality of each association is as important.
Often, it is better to look at trends – whether the state of social organisation appears to be becoming better or worse for livelihoods. Over time, it should be possible to develop an understanding of:
- the types of social resources upon which households rely; and
- who is excluded from these benefits.
Another important point for observation is people’s coping strategies in times of crisis and the extent to which they have relied on social resources to see them through.
Analysing natural capital
With natural resources it is very important to investigate long-term trends in quality and use. Typical issues for analysis might include:
- Which groups have access to which types of natural resources?
- What is the nature of access rights? (Private ownership, common ownership, highly contested access, etc.)
- Is there evidence of significant conflict over resources?
- How productive is the resource? (Fertility of soil, value of different tree species, etc.). How has this been changing over time? (For example, is there a variation in yields?).
- Is there existing knowledge that can help increase the productivity of resources?
- Is there much variability in the quality of the resource in different areas?
- How versatile is the resource? Can it be used for multiple purposes?
Analysing physical capital
Physical capital has to be analysed in a participatory manner as people may place a greater importance on some services than others and these priorities must be taken into account. For example, people may prefer to use a surface water supply a long way away rather than to pump a well near at hand.
The following kinds of questions may have to be asked:
- Does the infrastructure support a service? (There is little use of electricity poles if there is no supply).
- Is the infrastructure appropriate?
- Can the infrastructure meet the needs of the users in the long term?
Access is also a key concern. Sometimes costly infrastructure exists in an area, but the poor do not have access to it as richer groups use their strength and influence to control or monopolise access.
Analysing financial capital
Firstly, it is important to gain a straightforward understanding of:
- types of formal and informal financial services
- services they provide, and under what conditions (interest rates, collateral requirements, etc.)
- groups or types of people that have access and what prevents others from gaining access
- current levels of savings and loans
Understanding the nature of savings behaviour requires finding answers to questions such as:
- In what form do people currently keep their savings? (Livestock, jewellery, cash, etc.)
- What are the risks of these different options? How liquid are they?
In areas where there are a significant number of families with one or more members working in cities or other relatively less poor regions, it is important to understand the existence and effects of income from these sources.
Inter-relatedness of assets
Assets are inter-related in complex ways. For example, a family with land (natural capital) may have the potential for accessing financial capital in the form of loans (financial capital). Similarly, livestock may generate social capital (prestige and connectedness to the community) for owners while at the same time being used as a source of natural capital (milk) or as physical capital (for transport). It is important to develop an understanding of these complex relationships.
It is also necessary to incorporate a time dimension into any analysis of assets:
- What are the trends in overall asset availability?
- Which groups are accumulating assets, which are losing and why?
Understanding livelihoods and perceptions
Apart from analysing assets and their inter-relatedness, it is important to understand existing livelihoods and people’s perceptions about them. Below are some of the questions that may need to be asked:
- What does the livelihood ‘portfolio’ of different social groups look like? What is the percentage of income from different sources? What is the amount of time and resources devoted to each activity by different household members?
- How and why is this portfolio changing over time?
- How long-term is people’s outlook? Are they investing in assets for the future? If so, which types of assets are priorities?How ‘positive’ are the choices that people are making? (For example, are people ‘bonded’ in any way? Are women able to make their own choices or are they constrained by family pressure/local custom?)
- Which combinations of activities appear to be ‘working’ best? Is there any discernible pattern of activities adopted by those who have managed to escape from poverty?
Finally, one must ask:
- What are the livelihood objectives of the people?
- Which livelihood objectives are not achievable through current livelihood strategies?
Framing a livelihoods strategy
The answers to the last two questions should form the basis of a livelihoods strategy, framed according to analyses of available assets of all kinds.
The fundamental means and ends of the strategy should be promotion of :
- Capability- the ability to perform certain basic functions, to cope with stresses and shocks and the ability to find and make use of livelihood opportunities
- Equity - more equal distribution of assets, capabilities and opportunities, and an end to discrimination
- Sustainability - the ability to maintain and improve livelihoods while maintaining or enhancing the assets on which livelihoods depend.
When considering different livelihood strategies, it is important to recognise that people compete for markets, to secure better prices, etc. This makes it difficult for everyone to achieve simultaneous improvements in their livelihoods. The sustainable livelihoods approach values equity and prioritises the interests of the poor.
However, the poor are themselves a heterogeneous and internally competitive grouping.
There is no ‘solution’ to this problem. However, its existence does underscore the importance of:
- extending choice and opportunities for the poor and building up their ability to take advantage of these opportunities, while leaving them to make the final choice of what they will do; and
- thinking about safety nets for those who remain unable to achieve their livelihood objectives in what will always be a competitive environment.
Any livelihoods initiative or programme strategy aimed at poverty reduction should have the following goals which can be quantified:
- More income.
- Increased well-being.
- Reduced vulnerability.
- Improved food security.
These goals can be met in a sustainable manner only through:
- improved access to good education, information, technologies and training and better nutrition and health
- a more supportive and cohesive social environment
- more secure access to, and better management of, natural resources
- better access to basic infrastructure
- more secure access to financial resources; and
a policy and institutional environment that supports multiple livelihood strategies and promotes equitable access to competitive markets for all.