By Saurav Rajbhandari

Livelihood enhancement and diversification has been recognized, by conservationists and development practitioners alike, as a mechanism to promote livelihood development and encourage people to move away from the harmful exploitation and degradation of natural resources. However, the majority of the efforts to support livelihood enhancement and diversification have, so far, tended to be supply-driven and focused on single, “blueprint” solutions. Such solutions are not built on an understanding of the underlying factors helping or inhibiting livelihood diversification, and often fail to appreciate the obstacles faced by the poor in trying to enhance and diversify their livelihoods.

The result has often been “alternative livelihoods” initiatives that promote unsustainable solutions that are poorly adapted to people’s capacities, have limited market appeal, and fail to reflect people’s aspirations for their future. Where livelihood enhancement and diversification work has been undertaken in parallel with coastal and marine ecosystem conservation efforts, it has often been done after the introduction of management measures, when people are already attempting to cope with reduced livelihood opportunities, and their capacity to adapt has already suffered.

Ultimately, such failures affect the success of the management measure themselves, as people are forced to continue activities that degrade coastal and marine ecosystems through the lack of better alternatives and in spite of the risks involved.

Objectives of Sustainable Livelihood

• Empowered communities, especially the poor and women, through enhanced livelihood options and the support of equitable institutional arrangements
• Enhanced and diversified income opportunities for people created by tested technical and institutional innovations
• Improved well-being of people through the establishment of efficient and equitable market linkages for niche products and services
• More sustainable livelihoods, improved equity, and reduced poverty for people facilitated by the promotion of evidence-based policies.

The concept of Sustainable Livelihood (SL) is an attempt to go beyond the conventional definitions and approaches to poverty eradication.
These had been found to be too narrow because they focused only on certain aspects or manifestations of poverty, such as low income, or did not consider other vital aspects of poverty such as vulnerability and social exclusion. It is now recognized that more attention must be paid to the various factors and processes which either constrain or enhance poor people’s ability to make a living in an economically, ecologically, and socially sustainable manner.

The SL concept offers a more coherent and integrated approach to poverty. The sustainable livelihoods idea was first introduced by the Brundtland Commission on Environment and Development, and the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development expanded the concept, advocating for the achievement of sustainable livelihoods as a broad goal for poverty eradication.

In 1992, Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway proposed the following composite definition of a sustainable rural livelihood, which is applied most commonly at the household level: “A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living: a livelihood is sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global levels and in the short and long term.”

Some major organizations are hailing farming within agro-ecosystems as the way forward for mainstream agriculture. Current farming methods have resulted in over-stretched water resources, high levels of erosion and reduced soil fertility. According to a report by the International Water Management Institute and UNEP, there is not enough water to continue farming using current practices; therefore how critical water, land, and ecosystem resources are used to boost crop yields must be reconsidered. The report suggested assigning value to ecosystems, recognizing environmental and livelihood tradeoffs, and balancing the rights of a variety of users and interests. Inequities that result when such measures are adopted would need to be addressed, such as the reallocation of water from poor to rich, the clearing of land to make way for more productive farmland, or the preservation of a wetland system that limits fishing rights.

Technological advancements help provide farmers with tools and resources to make farming more sustainable. New technologies have given rise to innovations like conservation tillage, a farming process which helps prevent land loss to erosion, water pollution and enhances carbon sequestration. In a country like Nepal, where most people are involved in sustenance farming, a sustainable livelihood model can change the way of life by maintaining income and teaching people smart methods to better crop production and also deal with challenges.