The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework 2017-07-21T12:37:34+00:00

The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework

Twenty years experience with IPM Farmer Field Schools had clearly demonstrated that as farmers’ understanding of the ecological dynamics of their rice fields increased, so too did their awareness of the broader socio-economic context in which this was embedded. This, in turn, increased their desire and capacity to undertake collective actions to address some of these underlying issues and problems. The focus and scope of FFS and post-FFS activities ‘naturally’ shifts upward and outward, and the initial focus on rice agro-ecosystems gradually morphs into a broader social analysis. Beginning in the late 1990s, the Community IPM Program began utilizing the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF) as a handy conceptual tool that encompasses the interdependence of different aspects of development, placing people’s livelihoods at the center of the development process.

The Sustainable Livelihoods approach is a way of thinking about the objectives, scope and priorities for human development.  A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base.

The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework is centered on people. Its aim is to help stakeholders with different perspectives to engage in structured and coherent debate about the many factors that affect livelihoods, their relative importance and the way in which they interact. This, in turn, can help in the identification of appropriate entry points for support of livelihoods.

The framework comprises three different realms, or domains of analysis: the Vulnerability Context, a set of Livelihoods Assets, and Policies, Processes and Institutions. It does not work in a linear manner, and does not try to present a model of reality. Rather, it is a reasonably simple means of ordering issues, influences, processes and interactions, which can assist in setting objectives and devising strategies to increase sustainability and improve livelihoods. It is a flexible tool, to be adapted to meet the needs of particular situations.

Livelihood Assets

The asset pentagon lies at the core of the livelihoods framework, within the vulnerability context. The pentagon visually presents information about people’s assets, enhancing understanding of the interrelationships between the various assets that individuals, families and communities command.

Human Capital comprises the skills, knowledge, ability to labor and good health that together enable people to pursue different livelihood strategies and achieve their livelihood objectives.

Social Capital is the social resources upon which people draw in pursuit of their livelihood objectives. These are developed through:

  • networks and connectedness, either vertical (patron/client) or horizontal (between individuals with shared interests) that increase people’s trust and ability to work together and expand their access to wider institutions, such as political or civic bodies;
  • membership in formalized groups which often entails adherence to mutuallyagreed or commonly accepted rules, norms and sanctions; and
  • relationships of trust, reciprocity and exchanges that facilitate cooperation, reduce transaction costs and may provide the basis for informal safety nets amongst the poor.

Natural capital is the term used for the natural resource stocks harvested or utilized directly (e.g., farming, fishing) or from which resource flows and services (e.g., nutrient cycling, erosion protection) useful for livelihoods are derived. The relationship between natural capital and the Vulnerability Context is particularly close.

Physical capital comprises the basic infrastructure and producer goods needed to support livelihoods. These include essential components such as:

  • dependable, affordable transport;
  • secure shelter and buildings;
  • adequate water supply and sanitation;
  • affordable energy; and
  • access to information (communications).

Financial capital denotes the financial resources that people use to achieve their livelihood objectives, including flows as well as stocks and contributing to consumption as well as production. Access to financial capital – e.g., credit – is often equally as important as capital stocks.

The Vulnerability Context

The Vulnerability Context frames the external environment in which people exist. People’s livelihoods and the wider availability of assets are fundamentally affected by critical trends as well as by shocks and seasonality – over which they have limited or no control. These factors have a direct impact on people’s lives and assets, and the options that are open to them to pursue livelihood outcomes.

  • Shocks can destroy people’s assets or force them to leave their homes and sources of livelihood. Shocks include natural disasters, economic shocks, epidemics or crop failure, and conflict.
  • Trends are more predictable, though not necessarily more benign. These include technological change, national or international economic trends, changes in resource use patterns, and population/demographic shifts.
  • Seasonal shifts include fluctuations in prices, food availability and employment opportunities.

These factors directly affect people’s lives, however there is little that individuals or small communities can do to reduce their vulnerability, other than to become aware of the forces at work in their lives and work to increase their resilience, and to seek remedial measures at the level of Policies, Processes and Institutions (e.g., changes in policy, government or NGO assistance).

Policies, Processes and Institutions

Policies, processes and institutions within the livelihoods framework are the institutions, organizations, policies and legislation that shape livelihoods. These include cultural norms, practices and structures. Policies, processes and institutions operate at all levels, from the household to the international arena, and in all spheres, from the most private to the most public. They effectively determine:

  • access to and availability of various types of capital, livelihood strategies and decision-making bodies and sources of influence;
  • the terms of exchange between different types of capital; and
  • returns (economic and otherwise) to any given livelihood strategy.

Unlike with the factors comprising the Vulnerability Context, individuals and communities (even the poor) can have some influence in determining the policies, processes and institutions that affect their livelihoods. Strategies can range from passive resistance to active membership in decision-making bodies.

Policies, processes and institutions are to some extent shaped by the factors comprising the Vulnerability Context, as well as by theassets possessed by the communities to which they pertain. The relationship is dialectical, in that policies, processes and institutionscan accentuate or mitigate shocks, trends and seasonal shifts. (e.g., the relationship between forest conservation policy and floods, erosion and seasonal drought), also the availability, access to, and exchange value of various livelihood assets.

Within Community IPM and other FFS programs, participatory approaches (including farmer-to-farmer training, action research and policy dialogue) are being used to transform a range of assets (including natural, human and social capital) into positive livelihood outcomes, including security of incomes, food supplies and health, and improvements in rural civil society.

This post is also available in: Indonesian