Livelihoods

Livelihoods comprise the capabilities, assets and activities required for generating income and securing a means of living.

Sustainable livelihoods refer to people’s capacity to generate and maintain their means of living, and enhance their own well-being as well as that of future generations.

Households have sustainable livelihoods when they can cope with and recover from shocks and economic stress, and can maintain their capabilities and assets without undermining their natural environment.

These definitions help to differentiate groups of people by their main activities and their use of resources to make a living: for example, factory workers, livestock herders, fisher folk, skilled craftsmen, daily waged labourers and street food vendors. Each separate livelihoods group involves different tools of the trade, and what may be essential to one group may be useless to another in terms of making a living.

For more infromation about Livelihoods visit the IFRC Livelihoods Resource Centre.

[Source: IFRC, “IFRC guidelines for livelihoods programming“]

 

Community Organization

In developmental contexts, livelihoods strengthening is a primary strategy. Livelihoods can be vulnerable to the local economy, highly subject to market price fluctuations, poorly linked with demand and affected by changing climate or weather conditions. Helping vulnerable households strengthen the activities in which they are already engaged is less complex and usually more successful than trying to introduce new activities.

Support can be provided through a number of intervention areas that include:

  • Market-based production (choosing products based on market demand)
  • Marketing analysis and linkage (identifying and joining new markets)
  • Production/farming technique demonstration and support
  • Animal health
  • Post-harvest storage and management techniques
  • Vocational and employment skills training
  • Micro-enterprise development training (financial, planning, etc.)
  • Financial services (savings, credit, insurance)
  • Development of community infrastructure (community centres, transport routes)
  • Irrigation and watershed management
  • Rangeland, fisheries and forest management.

Interventions should be selected based on analysis of the livelihoods of targeted beneficiaries. Community-building activities are important to support where beneficiaries are encouraged to work together to gain an advantage in relation to sale of goods and purchase of inputs, or to be trained as a group to further build skills (e.g., farmer field schools, production groups, cooperatives).

In development contexts, diversification and transformation of livelihoods strategies often go together with livelihoods strengthening. Examples include:

  • Diversifying the types of crops a farmer grows
  • Increasing the stages of processing and improving the packaging and marketing of food production
  • Taking on a completely new income-generating activity.
  • Diversification is the development of new skills and livelihoods strategies, preferably based on existing knowledge and experience, as either the primary or the secondary source of income. The interventions described above can also support new livelihoods areas for a household or community.
  • Livelihoods diversification importantly supports improved protection of livelihoods and increased resilience. The more income sources for a household, the less vulnerable the household is to crisis and, therefore, the more quickly the household is able to recover.[Source: IFRC, “IFRC guidelines for livelihoods programming“]

Understanding people’s livelihoods is an excellent starting point for recognizing how households and communities can maximize their capacities and manage their vulnerabilities in normal times and after a disaster or conflict. It also helps identify how different household and community members contribute to the livelihoods activities, including boys, girls, men, women and the elderly.

“Sustainable livelihoods” is a concept widely used by humanitarian agencies and is useful in identifying the specific vulnerabilities of different livelihoods groups. The sustainable livelihoods approach helps to determine the root causes of vulnerability, often based on economic, social and political factors. In emergency situations, it is possible to provide livelihoods support in a way that promotes sustainability, even if the support provided is short term.

In line with the sustainable livelihoods framework, livelihoods programmes are often based on a set of central principles (refer Box 2).

The most common way of characterizing livelihoods is to identify and classify the assets and resources associated with livelihoods activities into five groups (refer Box 3).

Each livelihood has its own specific combination of the five asset and resource groups, and a special mechanism for dealing with hard times. For example, factory workers rely mainly on human assets in the form of skills and qualifications to gain employment and may be part of a workers’ union which is a social asset, whereas camel herders rely mainly on natural resources in the form of pasture and water to raise their animals as well as physical assets in the form of markets in which to sell their livestock. Disasters or conflict can damage these assets and, depending on the type of damage, certain livelihoods groups will be more or less affected.

Box 1. Sustainable livelihoods framework

This widely used, visual tool helps to simplify our understanding of livelihoods.

It assists in identifying livelihoods strategies that lead to livelihoods outcomes such as:

·         Increased income

·         Improved well-being

·         Reduced vulnerability

·         Better food security

·         More sustainable use of the natural asset base

·         Social relations and status

·         Dignity and (self) respect.

Box 2. Key guiding principles for livelihoods programming

Participatory approach:

Assess, plan, design, implement and monitor with the affected communities, paying particular attention to gender roles, responsibilities, as well as the particular needs, vulnerabilities and capacities of men and women.

Integrated approach:

Recognize that needs for livelihoods, food security, health, shelter and water and sanitation assistance are often overlapping priorities.

Quality assessments:

Take a holistic (whole) view of household and community vulnerabilities and capabilities that includes a sound analysis of their coping strategies and the external environment.

Form good partnerships:

Recognize the expertise of others and include coordination with local authorities and opportunities for advocacy.

Respect the local context:

Build on National Society and community capacities.

Take gender into account:

Use gender analysis of roles and responsibilities to better understand vulnerabilities and capacities and increase programme effectiveness.

Source: Global livelihoods workshop, IFRC (November 2008)

Box 3. The five livelihoods assets and examples of resource groups

Human : Education, training, qualifications, skills, being healthy, being capable to work

Social: Participation in community groups, connections with kin elsewhere, religious linkages, membership of political parties

Physical: Tools, equipment, roads, transport, electricity, sewerage, water wells, livestock, fertilizer, seeds

Financial: Savings (including jewellery if relevant), access to credit, debts, pension, remittance, salary

Natural: Land, water supply, forest resources, fishing resources, wild plants, fruit trees

Source: Adapted from: VCA toolbox, IFRC (2008)

 

Examples of key programming aims and activities under each asset group

[Source: IFRC, “IFRC guidelines for livelihoods programming“]

Livelihoods comprise the capabilities, assets and activities required for generating income and securing a means of living.

Sustainable livelihoods refer to people’s capacity to generate and maintain their means of living, and enhance their own well-being as well as that of future generations. Households have sustainable 3 livelihoods when they can cope with and recover from shocks and economic stress, and can maintain their capabilities and assets without undermining their natural environment.         

‘Livelihoods groups’ (sometimes called ‘wealth groups’) refer to groups of households within a community who share similar assets and capacities through which they gain their means of living. Members of each livelihoods group have the same means of living. Within a livelihoods group, there will be wealth groups of households with different levels of wealth (different levels of income and expenditure, different access to the range of assets and goods and services) and each will therefore have different levels of vulnerabilities.

Baseline information describes the set of conditions existing at the beginning of a programme. Results can be measured or assessed against such data. The objective of collecting baseline information is to have data available against which the data collected after completing a programme can be compared. This allows for the outcomes and impacts of the project to be shown. Baseline information looks at qualitative and quantitative indicators.

[Source: IFRC, “IFRC guidelines for livelihoods programming“]