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Sustainable Livelihood and Rural Development in South Asia

By Binayak Rajbhandari
Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology (HICAST)

(Thursday, Jan. 2, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- The issues and concerns about sustainable livelihood, food security, equality, social justice and sustainable rural development in South Asia have resumed good space in the national and regional discussions. The ultimate goal of humanity is to enrich local knowledge system and transfer it to the next generation with better environment, richer resource base and sustainable livelihood (SL) options in the planet Earth. Keeping in view that the people of South Asia never have had colonial and resource pirating characteristics but supporting nature conservation and global peace and friendship, the sustainable livelihood approach (SLA) can make this goal of the marginalised people of South Asia come true.

The sustainable livelihood approach is based on a wider view of addressing poverty and environment than conventional income-based approaches. It recognizes the importance of ability of the resource-poor people to access resources and entitlements; reduces risk and vulnerability; and provides space for the voice of the marginalised people; and therefore emphasizes that the resource-poor should have access and control over assets, livelihood options, strategies, and space in decision-making. It offers the prospect of identifying entry points for pro-resource-poor change, and of sequencing activities in such a way as to minimize the danger of appropriation of benefits by local élites or middle-person. At the same time, the SL approach might face several implementation difficulties, and demands more administrative and financial flexibility than is conventionally available. It may ignore intra-household interactions, e.g. needs of women and children, and the relations between households and wider structures of politics and power. Feasibility of the sustainable livelihood initiative depends on a number of factors such as who controls power and who is excluded; stability of the government; degree of commitment of the government to reduce poverty; degree and effectiveness of decentralization; level of political or armed conflict and so on. Sustainable livelihood approach therefore needs to be employed keeping in mind the various aspects or dimensions for sustainable and socially just rural development in South Asia.

Experience and studies of rural development in the developing countries of Asia indicate that an adequate institutional framework has been a major constraints on effective implementation of rural development programmes (Bista, 1999). Each country of South Asia should develop its own institutions to suit its rural development strategies and circumstances based on research and study of its factor endowment and experience. It is recognized that rural development should involve full participation of local communities. The evolution of strengthening of rural institutions must start with the encouragement of local leadership and mobilization of the poor (Ghate, 1984).

This paper presents some of the salient issues, concept and approaches about sustainable livelihood as well as local people’s initiative at micro-level as an attempt for rural development. Based on experiences of the people in other regions, reasons of failure of conventional development model of the past century have been discussed. This paper attempts to show the need to resist economic globalisation from the perspectives of resource-poor people of South Asia; and has suggested sustainable livelihood approach as the most appropriate and effective development approach for socially just and healthy rural communities in the region. General implications of SLA for rural development and general conclusions and suggestions have been incorporated at the end.


A Point of Our Concern

The distinction between a livelihood and a job offers an interesting and meaningful entry point into the problem of the development concept and model. According to The World Book Dictionary edited by Robert K. Barnhart (1995) a job is defined as "a definite piece of work undertaken for a fixed price", while livelihood is defined as "a means of living; what is needed to support life". Working at a job to earn money and to engage in a livelihood to support the life is thus profoundly different. Job almost invariably involves money but livelihood may or may not do. Livelihood is often self-directing but jobs are usually subject to supervision of someone else. We perceive job as working in offices or factories to earn money while sustainable livelihood is perceived as people or communities engaged in meeting individual and collective needs in environmentally responsible way. Thus, sustainable livelihood (SL) is the vision of a localized system of self-managing communities. In a broader sense, it is the balanced interaction among the humans, natural resources, technology and environment in favour of human civilization and nature conservation. Human intellect and appropriate information or the knowledge system serves to be the basis of this productive interaction. A job is a means of livelihood. However, a job is also something to which we devote considerable part of our life often to produce things that are damaging to nature and human health, for instance, a job in Bidi (local cigarette) factory, pesticide factory, etc.

The point of our concern is that our real need is to assure everyone a meaningful and adequate means of livelihood, which is well within the means of nearly every society. Purpose of this paper is not necessarily to argue against job or job creation as such. The politics of sustainable development is concerned with the question of opening political spaces within localities to allow the unfolding of processes of collective empowerment and to raise the social energy of communities. This agenda includes the objectives of resisting external predatory practices and protecting people’s access to productive resources. Sustainable livelihood approach is therefore the people-centered approach (PCA) of sustainable rural development and it calls for different policy actions. Opposite to the policies that increase the economic strength of multi-national corporations (MNCs), it requires a focus on policies and approaches that empowers localities; strengthens the bonds of family and community; and decentralizes social, economic and political power to women and marginalised groups for mobilizing the productive resources in an environmentally sustainable way. In this paper, therefore, an attempt is being made to accommodate discussions in favour of this people-centered concept.

Reducing poverty is the important task for governments in developing countries. However, there is no reason why NGOs or people’s organisations could not be major partners, especially in areas where government is weak. SL concern with access to resources might also help in indicating potential roles for the private sector.

Sustainable livelihood approach

Livelihood, in the SL approach, refers to more than income, and encompasses: ‘… 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 livelihood at the local and global levels and in the long and short term.’ (Chambers and Conway, 1992)

Sustainable livelihood approach (SLA) has to be complemented by a range of participatory information collection methods, and the identification of entry points and sequences will be of primary importance. Pragmatic implementation of the SLA will commonly apply SL perspectives on poverty, vulnerability and access to assets or resources. The SLA focuses on the ways of understanding the practical realities and priorities of resource-poor men and women; about their actual coping strategies for a living in a resource- and opportunity- constrained environment; about the assets that they are able to draw on; and about the problems that they face in doing this. The rationale is that the better this is understood, the better will be the participatory intervention planning and strategies for poverty reduction. Ideally, successful strategies of SLA should serve to improve and consolidate resource-poor people’s access to and control over assets, thereby improving their livelihood, and helping to make them less vulnerable to internal and external shocks and stresses.

In efforts to apply this rationale, sustainable livelihood approaches work at three levels (Farrington, Chapman and Slaymaker, 2001), acting as:

an overall development objective
a set of underlying development principles
an analytical framework

The development objective underlying SLA is to enhance the sustainability of people’s livelihood, with a particular focus on the livelihood of resource-poor men, women and households in rural settings.

The general development principles underlying the SLA are criteria for good practice, which are vital for realizing the development objective of sustainable livelihood approach. These principles broadly state that development activities should have the following features:

_people-centered: beginning with people’s own views of their priorities, opportunities and needs, and thereby is responsive and participatory; holistic: on the basis that livelihood strategies are diverse and depend on a wide range of assets, meaning that they require integrated multi-sectoral responses.

differentiated: recognizing that poverty, and appropriate policy responses, differ among different groups of resource-poor people; and therefore SLA must be designed to be specific to a context;

_multi-level: fostering approaches to link the local-level perspectives obtained by SL into higher-level processes of designing and implementing policies, which impinge on the resource-poor, i.e. building micro-macro linkages;

partnership-building between public, private and community sectors;

_dynamic: in response to the fact that the resource-poor manage complex survival strategies and activities, changing the balance among them with changes in the opportunities and constraints they face;

sustainable: in several dimensions, e.g. cultural, social, economic, institutional, and environmental; (Carney, 1998; Meikle et al., 2001)

The analytical framework is the core of the SLA. Using SLAs, agencies have developed varieties of detailed frameworks. We shall deal these in brief.

Vulnerability: This means ‘the insecurity or well being of individuals or communities in the face of changing environments (ecological/social/economic/political) in the form of sudden shocks, long term trends or seasonal cycles’ (Moser, 1996). The extent of vulnerability relates both to the level of external threats to a household’s, individual’s or community’s welfare and to their resilience resisting and recovering from these external threats (UNDP, 1997).

Assets: These are the resources on which people draw in order to carry out their livelihood strategies. These resources include a broad range of human, natural, social, physical, financial, and political capital. Both the men and women, who use assets in their livelihood strategies do not always own them rather they may have varying extents of access to and control over these assets. Issues relating to access to assets; and how the access of resource-poor men and women can be improved are a concern of the SL model.

Policies, Institutions and Processes (PIPs). PIPs cover a broad range of social, political, economic and environmental factors that determine peoples choices, and help to shape livelihood, such as institutions (established ways of doing things, social norms and belief systems), organisations, policies or legislation. They are relevant at all levels, from households to national and global processes.

Basic Features and Dimensions of SL

Basic features

Three basic features define the scope of sustainable livelihood approach in sustainable rural development.

Point of view
Focus on agency
Opposition to colonial practices or domination of external economic forces.

The first feature of the sustainable livelihood approach is its point of view of men and women who live in the situation of poverty and whose livelihoods have been threatened by the overall process of development (Chambers, 1997). In contradiction to the categories "job", "income" or "employment", the use of the concept "livelihood" is the recognition that people sustain their lives in the ways, which cannot be put into one single economic category. Livelihood is a multi-dimensional concept based on the complex pattern of supporting life in a given ecosystem. Access to natural productive resources or social networks, for instance, often play an important role in supporting people’s lives, which is not taken into account in the conventional economic category of employment or job creation. Sustainable livelihood approach begins with people’s perceptions and realities; addresses their needs, social relationships within and outside the communities, and their coping strategies to internal and external shocks; and identifies alternative paths of socio-economic transformation. It creates political spaces to find ways to speak about politics, governance and policies at the local, national, regional and international levels from the sustainable livelihood perspectives.

The second feature of the sustainable livelihood approach is its focus on agency. It emphasizes the need to support and strengthen people’s capability to analyze the reality of their lives and environment as well as to make action plans and execute them. While doing so, it perceives peoples’ productive lives as inextricably linked to their cultural identities and diversity. This focus is very different from the idea that external agents should build people’s capacity to act, e.g. by creating jobs. The sustainable livelihood approach has put emphasis not only on the view that poverty is inextricably linked to the capacity to act, but also that people’s capacity to act should be strengthened through people’s own organisations and action. Thus animation, collective empowerment and social mobilization are the key to SL approach (Rajbhandari, 2001).

The third feature of sustainable livelihood is its opposition to colonial practices and domination of external economic forces. In the present context of globalisation, it places major emphasis on the formation and strengthening of local democratic institutions or people’s organisations for effective resistance of economic globalisation policies, and improvement of socio-economic and political situation at the local and regional levels within the framework of social justice and equity. Its opposition to domination of external economic force aims at making the vulnerable groups of people capable to regenerate local economy and liberate from possible external shocks (Rajbhandari, 2001).

Dimensions of SL

Sustainable livelihood approach is a comprehensive participatory development approach, which addresses various aspects or dimensions of livelihood. In short, it has the following dimensions:

Skill and indigenous knowledge system
Nutrition, health and sanitation
Environmental protection and food production
Self-employment and assets building
Strengthening political spaces and decentralization

Depending on the need and potential of a given ecosystem and socio-cultural context, the actors of SL design and implement various integrated programs of livelihoods to address one or more dimensions of SL.

A Critique of the Conventional Development Model

Mainstream economic development has sought to raise income and standard of living through employment generation induced by growth in output. Thus, it focuses on the link between economic growth and the creation of jobs, and on the link between increased job opportunities and well being, as the avenue to human development. However, in doing so it de-links the actors of development from its beneficiaries, i.e. the resource-poor.

Owing to inadequate opportunities for productive employment and left without adequate access to productive resources and basic human rights, a major portion of humanity is marginalised from the mainstream social, political and economic processes of the societies they live and tend to work in. This sort of poverty or marginalisation of humanity is rampant in the rural districts in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. It has been estimated that more than a billion people are consigned to lives of abject poverty; and above 800 million people are struggling with hunger. Major portion of these people is geographically confined to survive in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. To address these issues and concerns of humanity, the conventional development model has defined its goal in terms of growing economies to provide more jobs rather than attempting to develop healthy human societies with secure and satisfying livelihood along with sustainable use of ecology and natural resources. Arguing to address the issues of poverty, hunger and subordination of the people in South more effectively, economic globalisation or open market economy has been the rallying flag for the last few decades. Korten has rightly pointed out that ‘a global economy that depends on consuming environmental resources faster than they can be generated destroys its own resource base. A global economy that pays its workers too little to buy the products they produce destroys its own markets. A global economy that displaces the functions of households and communities destroys the social fabric. A global economy that destroys its resource base, its markets, and the social fabric cannot survive long, nor can the corporations whose profits depend on these self-destructive dynamism’ (Korten, 1996). Poverty and inequality continue to increase persistently as the social fabric of family and community disintegrates at an alarming rate.

The consequences of the development policies of the last five decades are now evident, and those policies or measures taken in the name of development and job creation have been devastating for the majority of the people in the world. Those policies and strategies have made the economic poverty rampant, have widened the gap between the resource-rich and resource-poor, have torn apart the social fabric, have devastated the natural environment, and have depleted natural resources. There is no dearth of literature that present such pictures in the countries of South, particularly in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa.

Rethinking political spaces from gender perspective

The critical issue of South Asian countries and governments is to recognise and understand that South Asian women have been made to face an obstacle that hinders their efforts to live and prosper. The second issue is how to go about implementing and/or replicating social change in the countries of South Asia. It should be noted that some civil society groups, including non-governmental organisations and women’s groups, have taken initiative to change the discriminatory socio-economic norms and values at micro-level. Their positive responses to modernity or economic globalisation need to be analyzed and understood within the framework of social justice and equity towards achieving sustainable livelihood and rural development in South Asia.

Globalisation has some positive impacts on human societies and capabilities but it has devastating impacts on the livelihood of the resource-poor, environment and human civilization. Evidences of its negative impacts on the lives of the resource-poor and women have revealed that neither it can redistribute the already accumulated wealth, nor can it cause equitable distribution of the income in favour of resource-poor and women. ‘The economic globalization phenomena (usually beyond one country’s control) have been disadvantageous for the region of South Asia as a whole and have had a particularly negative impact on women. In Pakistan, the globalization of the economy has meant that poverty levels have spiraled with basic survival and livelihood needs of the people not being met, increasing in turn the pressure on women-the managers of household nutrition and physical needs’ (Mumtaz, 1999). It is therefore imperative to respond politically to economic globalisation in order to transform it into pro-poor-globalisation, which is simultaneously environment friendly.

In rethinking political responses to modernity and economic globalisation, it is important to build on the creativity, indigenous knowledge and experience of women’s groups engaged in place-based politics. The conflict that the women are experiencing within different domains, e.g. body, home, environment and social public space shows new forms of cultural and political relations. As actors in their own lives, women of the south are leading place-based activities, forming "meshworks" and defining "glocalities". It would be appropriate to shed light on the concepts: "meshwork" and "glocality". The concept of network is central to the processes of globalization. The pro-poor-globalization (PPG) networks that connect social groups and movements with each other might be better termed as meshworks. Meshworks tend to be non-hierarchical and self-organizing. Harcourt and Escobar (2002) have further pointed out that meshworks involve two parallel dynamics: strategies of localization and of interweaving. Localization strategies contribute to the internal consistency of each particular point in the network making it more distinct from the rest, while interweaving links the sites together making use of and emphasizing their similarities. The resulting meshworks of the anti-globalization or PPG movement could be in the position of holding the big financial and development institutions more accountable for the hierarchies they continue to support. Many of the meshworks link together various sites that in the process create spaces that are neither local nor global but can be better understood as "glocal". Glocal spaces, understood as strategic, have tremendous potential as a base for new and transformative politics and identities. Glocalities, the places and spaces produced by linking together various social movements in networks and meshworks of opposition, or by the connection of places to global processes, are therefore both strategic and descriptive, potentially oppressive and transformative. Glocalities are simultaneously global and place-based, and their specific configuration will depend on their cultural content and on the power or decision-making dynamics at play. Decision-making has been regarded traditionally as a male domain in South Asia. Often using customs and traditions as a tool, women have been sidelined from most decision-making process from household to national level. Women in South Asia have the lowest rates of participation in their governance structures. For example in South Asia:

Women occupy only 7 percent of the parliamentary seats; Only 9 percent of the cabinet members are women; Only 6 percent of positions in the judiciary are held by women; Only 9 percent of the civil servants are women; and Only 20 percent members of local government are women. (HDSA, 2000)

The Report on Human Development in South Asia advocated that if governance is to promote human development, it has to go beyond being pro-people or people-centered (HDSA, 1999).


Poverty and Environmental Degradation

Poverty is defined as a state in which ‘opportunities and choices most basic to human development are denied to lead a long, healthy, creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-respect and respect for others’ (UNDP, 1997). Concern for human development and gender mainstreaming in development has not been enough of a priority for most policy makers in the South Asian region. As a result, there are now increasing number of people without adequate food/nutrition, health and sanitation. ‘Poverty-whether measured in absolute or relative terms, by per capita income, per capita consumption expenditure, or per capita food expenditure-does not totally express the social conditions in which people live. Thus the poverty line becomes only a single variable, which does not explain the phenomenon of poverty. It is imperative to look at poverty from the social, structural, psychological and cultural perspectives’ (Rajbhandari, 2001). The withering away of traditional livelihood due to unsustainable environmental practices and internal as well as external crises has become another challenge. ‘The process of impoverishment through a weakening or loss of the household resource base brings about poverty for both women and men. However, women experience poverty more profoundly than men do through impoverishment in three ways: ii. through more limited access to scarce and valued resources; ii. through the disintegration of support system; and iii. through the intergenerational transfer of poverty along gender lines. These tendencies are exacerbated in times of internal and external crisis. For these reasons, policies and programs to reduce poverty need to be sensitive to gender issues within and among households’ (Heyzer, 1996). A prosperous future for South Asia is dependent on the solution of these problems and commitment of all the governments and civil societies to ensuring that all South Asian people attain a decent and dignified standard of living.

The annual growth rate of GNP in South Asia from 1975 to 1995 was 3 percent, which is second in the world only to East Asia (4.5%). However, this figure does not reflect the reality that there has been little in the way of actual improvements in the living standard of the majority of people. With the exception of India, the rest of South Asian countries have witnessed increasing poverty since the late 80s. As the report of Human Development in South Asia 1999 pointed out, the numbers of absolute resource-poor in the region have increased from 270 million in the 1960s to approximately 515 million people in 1995. Ninety percent of rural Bhutanese and around 40 percent of Nepali people live under poverty line. Pakistan has witnessed an increase in the Gini coefficient of inequality from 0.35 in 1987 to 0.42 in 1994, with its lowest income group suffering a decline in real income to the tune of 56 percent since the late 1980s (HDSA, 2000). The reasons for the rampant pro-resource-poor growth are many, most can be attributed to wholly inappropriate policies and poor governance, which have resulted in corruption, fiscal irresponsibility, and increasing poverty and unemployment.

‘Alongside the poverty or human deprivation, the deterioration of environment is taking place at alarming rate, and if allowed to continue it would permanently damage the ecological systems in South Asia. Pakistan has the eighth worst annual rate of deforestation in the world at 2.9 percent’ (UNDP, 1999). Since the 1980s, there have been limited improvements in environmental practices in South Asia. These unsustainable practices are rampant because of the engagement of some interest groups or anti-environmental economic mafia, who are less concerned about how their profiteering will affect present and future generations who rely/would rely on natural resources for their livelihood. They have also been ignoring the very basic problem of depletion of the natural resource base including the plant genetic resources or biodiversity as a whole. Poverty is another complex factor responsible for ecological degradation. Interaction between poverty and ecological degradation is positively reciprocal. ‘The vast numbers of resource-poor people in the region are starved for sustainable livelihood and a combination of this basic need with the lack of awareness lead to their engagement in anti-environment activities. This vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation is indeed one of the South Asia’s major concerns that long-term pressure on grasslands due to rapid growth in human and livestock population is resulting in biodiversity loss’ (UNDP, 1999).

Biological Diversity, IPRs and Sustainable Livelihood

Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part. This includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. Human beings and their cultures are a part of biological diversity as well, and no one should put it aside. Globally however, biodiversity is under siege. ‘Conservation and utilization of biodiversity and farming community’s control over plant and animal genetic resources are therefore important for preventing further degradation of the productive resource base, increasing economic opportunities, fighting poverty and food insecurity, as well as making the livelihoods of the rural population sustainable both in terms of space and time’ (Rajbhandari, 2001).

Impact of modern genetic engineering or biotechnology has been widely discussed these days. Kneen has defined genetic engineering/biotechnology as "a technology of domination and control over nature, people, and life itself… If we look candidly at the practice of (this technology), we see violent intervention in the structure of life in order to reshape it according to our goals and purposes. In this respect, it can be said that this technology is engaged in a form of Structural Adjustment, but directed by Ciba-Geigy and Monsanto rather than by the World Bank and IMF" (Kneen, 1996). Vandana Shiva has pointed out that ‘following someone else’s mode of knowledge production can lead to the adoption of someone else’s worldview and way of constructing problems. As young students, for example, become trained in the use of language and techniques and the identification of problems as they are defined by this technology (biotechnology engaged in the production of genetically modified organism), they adopt not only the technology but the epistemology. In addition, with that adoption, they may foreclose the opportunity to take fundamentally different paths to problem construction and knowledge production. What is lost in this process is often the traditional cultural route to knowledge. However, sometimes what is foreclosed is the road to common sense. A shiny new technology may leave a path of victims suffering from, to borrow a phrase from another context, a monoculturalization of the mind’ (Shiva, 1993). Indeed, if a new genetically modified organism (GMO) comes to have access to an ecosystem in which it displaces other organisms, breeds with other organisms, or disrupts the ecosystem in any way, or if the indigenous bio-resources are pirated in the name of intellectual property rights (IPRs), then the effect on biodiversity can be worrisome. This is the matter of prime concern of the people in South Asia.

Diversity among South Asian women and their livelihoods

In comparison to men and women around the world, the South Asian women (and also the women of Sub Saharan Africa) are less literate; have less access to primary and reproductive health services; as well as are least likely to enjoy civil, legal, economic and political equality and socio-economic security. The position of a woman in South Asian countries, in relation to men and women both in her community and from other communities, is based on her gender as well as other factors. In South Asia, the lines of ethnicity, caste, age, education, family structure, religion, disability, ecology and location cross the gender. The gender ideology of a given community, particularly in terms of relative mobility, decision-making power, and access to socio-economic resources, is determined both in theory and practice. Thus the South Asian women must be considered heterogeneous due to inter-community, intra-community and inter-temporal diversity.

Inter-community diversity refers to those variations among women based upon the community in which they live. The South Asian sub-continent is the home to several religious groups, as well as many and diverse smaller and more localised traditions. Furthermore, the communities also differ in terms of geo-ecology, culture, knowledge system and livelihood systems, each having their own influence on accepted gender roles and relations. For instance, Buddhism as practised in Nepal and Bhutan is different from that in Sri Lanka; and Islam has found different mode of expression in different parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives. In some regions, the hierarchies that oppress women and entire communities are based on feudal structures rather than on religion. In some regions, matrilineality for instance in Bhutan, northern India, some northern part of Nepal, is the cultural norm, fostering somewhat greater gender egalitarianism than in those areas, which maintain patrilineality (Agarwal, 1996). Because the level of enforcement of law frequently relies on cultural norms as well as resource constraints, and thus varies considerably both within and among countries, the de jure (in theory) constitutional and legal rights afforded to women is often not translated into de facto (in practice) protection.

Intra-community diversity is also very important. Various demographic factors tend to influence women’s status in the community. For instance, difference in terms of mobility, relative autonomy, etc. is prevalent based on age, family size and structure. An older Bangladeshi woman with adult sons is often able to move more freely in society than her younger counterparts, to influence local politics through her sons, and to control the movement and economic activity of her daughter-in-laws. In Nepal, mobility of young girls is restricted. The class background and level of education of a woman or girl and her family also affect her position and mobility.

A woman’s position in a society is not static; and it changes in response to, and also affects the changes in social, cultural, economic, environmental and political situation of a community. Thus, there is inter-temporal diversity in the lives of South Asian women. This diversity is often apparent in inter-generational difference.

The diversity of South Asian women’s lives and experiences must serve to be the basis of analysis of the issues, concerns and policy recommendations for sustainable livelihood and rural development in the region. ‘South Asian women have been suffering greater poverty and subordination in education, health, social, economic, legal and political opportunities or power as compared to their male counterparts. By virtue of being both "South Asian" and "women", there are several factors that transcend class, ethnicity, religion, culture, locality, and affects the lives of all South Asian women. These include responsibility for household chores, childcare, vulnerability to domestic violence, and the economic vulnerability that reflects women’s unequal legal and social (and economic) status’ (Agarwal, 1996). These commonalities are based upon a shared sub-continental history, based upon layers of religious, cultural, economic and political structures, shaped by centuries of immigration and colonialism, and combined with patriarchal structure that oppresses women. Presenting the context of India, Raghuram and Ray (1999) pointed out ‘in addition to the rural/urban divide, the caste, class and disparities in health persist, giving rise to a situation in which different pockets of population within the same country portray differing health status. The availability of access to social infrastructure is uneven between social groups, economic classes, and geographical regions. The scheduled classes and tribes, in particular, and the poor in general, are being adversely affected.’

In all South Asian countries, men and women both have to take the same competitive examinations before being inducted into the civil service. This should leave little chance of discrimination. Yet discrimination persists in postings and promotions, in the attitude of peers and colleagues, and it persists in entire systems that leave more than half the female population educationally disadvantaged. As a result, the overall proportion of women in civil services throughout most South Asian countries remains less than or at 10 percent with the majority concentrated in social sectors. For instance, the proportion of women in civil service as of 1990 in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan respectively is as follows: 21.1%, 7.88%, 7.66%, 6.8%, and 5.35 %. In South Asia, women are almost invariably assigned to the social sectors and many of them in subordinate positions (HDSA, 2000).

Obviously, for achieving sustainable livelihood and rural development, above-mentioned discriminatory norms, values, structure and policies need to be transformed into socially just and gender equitable ones. The challenges posed by the discriminatory norms, values, policies and institutions prevalent within a wide range of socio-cultural diversities are numerous in South Asia. These include how to restore, conserve, and utilise the pluralistic characteristics of South Asian people as a basis of sustainable livelihoods and development in rural settings. It should be noted however that the diversity in discriminatory values and practices, policies and laws need to be changed from the women’s and marginalised group’s perspective.

Agro-biodiversity and Intellectual Property Rights

Agriculture has been the major human intervention for natural resource management aimed at achieving food and livelihood security of humankind. ‘During the late 1960s the ‘Green Revolution’ based on intensive chemical farming systems, significantly increased food production in the world, but the ultra-poor or the marginalised land less people and small farmers could not enjoy the benefit. The environmental pollution, soil structure degradation, and depletion of agro-biodiversity, especially plant genetic resources, caused by the intensive chemical farming system have posed new challenges and serious threats to the sustainability of livelihoods of the small farmers and farm laborers in the South. Optional to that food production system, various other alternative systems of natural resource management and food production have been implemented, but their coverage and focus are relatively scanty’ (Rajbhandari, 2002).

Sharing the experience of Pakistan, Shahid Zia and Mushtaq Gadi from SUNGI Development Foundation reported that ‘the Green Revolution, coupled with other policies of the dominant development paradigm, shifted the balance in favour of the big and rich farmers and transnational companies. It required high inputs, relatively fertile lands and coarse and secondary foods, on which the poor depend for subsistence, were neglected and thus almost displaced from the mainstream policy arena’ (Zia & Gadi, 2001).

The indigenous biodiversity in the countries of South, and local people’s access to them are in the verge of fast depletion due to the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) ‘movement’ of the economic powers. Rafael Mariano from the Peasant Movement of the Philippines presents his case arguing that ‘intellectual property rights have been co-opted by business interests (supported by the US) to strengthen their control over agricultural production and to open up new markets at the expense of small farmers and developing countries’ (Mariano 2002). Bandana Shiva from Ecological Movement in India (Shiva 1999) has clearly warned that ‘there can be no partnership between a logic of death… and the logic of life on which women farmers in the South base their partnership with the Earth to provide food security to their families and communities’.

Mariano (2002) in particular argues:

The 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) significantly strengthens the rights of corporate plant breeders, at the expense of farmers’ rights TRIPs promotes the private rights of corporations over local communities, allows transnational corporations to keep drug prices and has recently been invoked to stop developing countries from providing generic, cheaper drugs to AIDS patients in the Third World Biodiversity-rich countries are coming under intense pressure to adopt US-style intellectual property laws through harmonization of world trade rules. Plant variety protection and patents restrict the rights of farmers to share, use and save seeds from their harvests and violate farmers and farm communities' rights to conserve, develop, use, control, and benefit not only from local diversity but also rural peoples' knowledge system and technology.

Farmer's access to gene banks is not always guaranteed. It will often depend on the goodwill of those responsible for the banks, rather than on the recognition of farmer’s rights.

In response, the author advocates:

Gene banks should implement Material Transfer Agreements that prevent claims of ownership or any form of intellectual property right over genetic material. Guarantee meaningful participation in the development of regulations related to registration and production of local & industrial varieties. Monitor and assess the impact of intellectual property. Promote food sovereignty and biodiversity-rich farming under the control of local communities.

Thus, conservation of local plant biodiversity, the basis of livelihood of the women and local farmers in the South in general, and in South Asia in particular, as well as to respond against the Genetically Modified organism including the seed and food and anti-poor IPRs, have become the number one issue and concern for the people and civil society groups in the region.

Patterns of vulnerability

The generic sources of vulnerability are contextually specific to particular communities or neighbourhoods; and are differently experienced by the various groups of people living in any village or community or neighbourhood. Some groups, defined along lines such as gender, occupation, caste or ethnicity, may be particularly vulnerable to specific shocks and stresses. ‘In India, for example, women are substantially over-represented amongst the resource-poorest (women and children account for 73% of those below the poverty line); and it has been asserted that gender differences within the incidence of poverty in urban areas are more intense than those in the rural areas’ (Barret and Beardmor, 2000). One example of such a self-defined understanding of vulnerability comes from a research project drawing on a participatory evaluation with rural women from different regions in Gujarat (Twigg and Bhatt, 1998). As a general rule, the rural women of South Asia have been the victims of droughts or floods or both, or fire or health emergencies or food shortages.

Self-defined patterns of vulnerability among rural women in Gujarat, India are as follows:

poor resource base (no or little agricultural land or water)
poor resource quality (less productive/rainfed land or barren trees)
lack of productive assets (e.g. wells, bullocks and poultry)
lack of access to better seeds, fertilizers and channels of marketing
near absence of activities in the non-farm sector
high degree of indebtedness due to borrowing to meet various relief, consumption and social needs
irregular and seasonal availability of wage labor before and after disaster
low wages received

The situation is further compounded by:

illiteracy, lack of education and information on disasters (beyond their direct experience)
lack of awareness of different government schemes and programs of relief or vulnerability reduction
rigidities of relief distribution under government programs
incapability of raising and absorbing loans as victims from formal sector credit institutions
a not-so-sensitive bureaucracy
leakage to their groups of benefits meant for victims
prevalent malpractice in support institutions such as relief agencies and the civil supply department that runs the Government of India’s Public Food Distribution Scheme
the role of middlemen in the rehabilitation efforts, and individual or government income-generating activities
economic exploitation by non-victims
the patriarchy prevalent within the relief-to-rehabilitation cycle.

The issues of vulnerability and coping strategies of the local people should be the key focus of SL approaches for sustainable rural development.

Issues and Concerns Regarding Access to Capital Assets

Differences between assets that the resource-poor own and those to which they have rights to access exist between rural communities. In practice, not all assets neither are owned by nor are in the control of men and women who are attempting to use them in their livelihood strategies. In fact some, like common property resources, cannot be owned by individuals or even households, and others, such as ‘social capital’, cannot be owned, but imply a negotiated relationship. Similarly, services supplied through targeted state programs are officially accessible to the resource-poor, but in practice institutional and practical barriers may limit the access of the resource-poor to the benefits of such programs. It is therefore important to distinguish between access to and control over assets. Men and women may have access to resources, either within or outside the household, in that they are able to use them. They may not, however, always have control over these resources. Control over resources means more than access, as it implies power and a control over decision-making about how, when and by whom the resources should be utilized. The different access to and control over resources by the various men, women and children both within households and within communities is an essential area of our concern.

Sen’s concept of ‘entitlement’ can be helpful in understanding the extent of people’s access to and control over resources (Sen, 1981). ‘Entitlement’ is the ability to command access to different forms of capital assets through the use of financial resources, formal and informal relationships with other groups and individuals or legal rights. An analysis of people’s entitlement helps to highlight the power that they can draw on to gain controls over and uses resources. SL models through an analysis of Policies, Institutions and Processes (PIPs) generally deal with the importance of access or entitlement to assets, and the factors determining them. The PIPs focus on policies and institutions as well as the processes in reality, which work with or against them. Thus in India, for example, the laws ensuring universal primary education suggest that this is a human capital asset to which all are entitled, but in practice a range of processes and institutions mean that this asset is in fact not accessible to all households. Similar story is there in Nepal. Conceptually, there is some overlap in SL models between PIPs as the determinant of access to the various categories of assets. Thus, for example, ‘social capital’ is largely significant as a means of ensuring access to other assets. People mobilize their friendships and family and community networks (i.e. their social capital) to get access to loans, information, accommodation and so on. Similarly, human capital (health, education and skills) is important in determining access to paid work, i.e. financial capital.

Chambers’s distinction between tangible and intangible assets is another way of looking at the difference between access to and control over resources. Thus ‘tangible assets are those physical assets, which are owned, while intangible assets such as social capital or legal frameworks help men and women to ensure their access to assets, which they do not directly own or have control over ‘ (Chambers, 1995).

Various capital assets that are addressed by SLA include the following:

Human capital
Natural capital
Social capital
Physical capital
Political capital
Financial capital

We will not deal these points in detail, however, would present some concerns from the SL perspective.

Human capital

Human capital refers to the skills, knowledge and ability to work. Financial capital, in terms of access to employment and earnings, is strongly dependent on adequate human capital. In turn, human capital is highly dependent on adequate nutrition, health care, safe environmental conditions, and education. Resource-poor people living in rural areas normally have poor access to health services. In India and Nepal, the availability of allopathic drug therapy has increased enormously over the last quarter century eroding the traditional ayurvedic knowledge system and practice, and the resource-poor village people have to make serious sacrifices to afford for allopathic treatment in the cities. But health being so important they are likely to do so. Government health programs tend to have a better coverage in urban areas only. However, studies indicate that a disproportionate share of health and education programs are used by the non-resource-poor, often because the facilities are located closer to their households and because they can better afford services. In addition, government social service subsidies are not well targeted and, consequently, are not efficient at redistributing income (Barret and Beardmor, 2000). Obviously, there is variation in the human capital among the household’s locations and their financial situations.

Natural capital

Natural capital refers to environmental assets such as land or natural resources such as water, forests or grazing land, and biodiversity. Natural resources are widely used in the livelihood strategies of the rural people as their main occupation is farming or natural resource management for food production, and collection/supply of raw materials to agro-industries. There is wide variation in the access to and control over natural resources among the households with diverse background.

Social capital

A key asset for both the rural and the urban resource-poor is social capital. Social capital refers to networks of mutual support that exist within and between households, extended family, and communities, which people can mobilize to access, for example, loans, childcare, food, accommodation and information about employment and opportunities (Moser, 1998; Dersham and Gzirishvili, 1998). Some also argue that strong social capital can help communities in mobilizing them to make demands for services and rights to the state (Putnam, 1993). However, social capital is a valuable and critical resource for resource-poor households, especially during the period of crisis and socio-economic change. The existence of informal social networks significantly decreases the likelihood of resource-poor men and women perceiving their household’s food, economic or housing conditions as insecure (Moser, 1998). However, while social capital is an important asset for the resource-poor, processes of urbanization and migration may weaken social networks for some groups. According to a World Bank study, community and inter-household mechanisms have been weakened by social and economic heterogeneity in India, and the increased communal violence and social fragmentation can be attributed to loosening social ties, competition for access to scarce resources, and the widening gap between rich and resource-poor (Pantoja, 1999). This is the process the economic globalisation is promoting in South Asian and other developing countries (Rajbhandari, 2000).

Physical capital

Physical capital includes assets such as housing, tools and equipment that people own, rent or use and public infrastructure that they have access to. Housing is normally one of the most important assets for both rural and urban households as it is used both for shelter and reproductive purposes and for productive or income-generating purposes (Moser, 1998).

In India, pavement dwellers, who do not have secure access to housing cannot access subsidies, government hospitals or fair price shops because they lack an address to register under (Guha Sapir, 1996). Where housing is used to access credit, it is important to distinguish between those who own their own housing and those who rent. Squatter settlements include large rental populations who find it harder to access credit. One study of Rajeshwar Nagar, a squatter settlement in Banglore, notes that informal moneylenders from outside the settlement will only lend money to those who own their own houses. So renters in the settlement rely on pawnbrokers for credit with the result of high levels of indebtedness (Benjamin and Amis, 1999). In Nepal also, resource-poor households who do not own land or housing can not borrow money from the bank or local moneylenders for agricultural or off-farm income generation activities.

Besides being an asset, house is often a key determinant of other assets such as human capital and social capital, as mutual support networks of work through neighbourhood relations and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), membership of which generally rely on secure access to housing and to the locality of housing. Other physical assets such as jewelry or household goods may be obtained to satisfy cultural norms and basic needs. In addition to these roles these assets can also act as a store of value and be pawned or sold during times of crisis (Chambers, 1997).

Political capital

In addition, Baumann and Sinha (2001) suggest that the ability to influence political processes which determine decision-making and access is something which men and women can build up and draw on, and thus political capital should be considered as an important capital asset.

‘Political capital is defined broadly… as the ability to use power in support of political or economic positions and so enhance livelihood; it refers to both the legitimate distribution of rights and power as well as the illicit operation of power which generally frustrates efforts by the resource-poor to access and defend entitlements and use them to build up capital assets.’ (Baumann and Sinha, 2001)

One important point in the analysis of the assets being used by households or individuals is that it should not be assumed that assets are all attributed the same value. It is important to distinguish between those assets, which are being used out of necessity, because they are readily available (e.g. the use of waste or refuse for income generation), and those assets which are seen as particularly valuable and which may be specially sought out or obtained at some cost (Moser, 1998; Rakodi, 1999).

Dependence on income means that one of the most calamitous events faced by resource-poor households is the loss or illness of a major income earner. In India, the response to illness of an earner ‘often requires women to join the labour force or take on a second job. Where this is impossible, the most common non-labour response is through disposal of household assets or credit, the latter creating a household debt, which further strains, the resources of the family. A negative circular pattern of ill health leading to indebtedness leading to the loss of assets and further impoverishment can have a devastating impact on households.’ (Barret and Beardmor, 2000).

One criticism of Sustainable Livelihood as a holistic approach to development is its failure to explicitly address issues of power, and it is argued that ‘a rights-analysis provides one way of addressing political and institutional relations’ (Norton and Foster, 2001). Thus the incorporation of Rights-Based Approaches (RBAs) into SL analysis can help to elucidate issues of power in determining access to assets.

In the countries of South Asia, the capacity for resource-poor people to make demands on the state is mixed. Some successes of CBOs influencing state actions have been documented. However, the informal or illegal status of many resource-poor households often limits their rights to influence formal political processes.

Financial capital

Although credit has been an essential asset for the rural resource-poor or entrepreneurs, many households and individuals are unable to access credit through the formal market, bank or more expensive informal markets. This is the general trend in all countries of South Asia. Thus, while financial capital is one of the most important assets for the rural and urban resource-poor, it is normally far from the reach of the targeted beneficiaries.

Impact of Cultural Institutions on Access to Resources

Social and cultural institutions can have a major impact on resource-poor households’ access to resources. One cultural institution in India and Nepal that has traditionally very significant impact on the access of different groups of people to livelihood assets is the construction and division of communities based on caste or ethnicity. It has strongly influenced access of people to education, employment, public services, and property.

While there is evidence that some traditional practices based on caste system are gradually changing, there is also still evidence that caste affects access to livelihood assets. In India and Nepal the capitalist, professional and business class comes overwhelmingly from the so-called higher castes (such as Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasthas and Baniyas- in India; and Brahmins, Chhetris, Marwadis, Baniyas, Newars-in Nepal). Furthermore, while laws exist to protect the employment of scheduled castes or ethnic minorities in public sector employment the almost complete absence of these groups of people from areas of private employment other than menial or manual’ is evidence that in practice discrimination continues. In addition, the existence of squatter settlements known as harijan bastis (untouchable communities’ villages), suggests that caste does remain a significant source of social identity, particularly in reference to poverty and spatial exclusion. In Nepal terai, squatter communities of Musahar, Dusad, Chamar are the groups of people most marginalised from both the development efforts and in having access to assets. However, while caste does appear to continue to have an influence on people’s access to resources, it is important not to make an assumption that all the so-called lower or untouchable castes have the same experience of exclusion, as caste often interacts with other social identities.

Another set of cultural institutions in the countries of South Asia that influence livelihood are those relating to gender –the roles which are deemed to be appropriate for men and women and their rights and entitlements to assets. Gender norms can have an important impact on intra-household relations, e.g. in Nepal, India and Bangladesh, women and female children are largely less valued members of the household and are often excluded from decision-making. It is to be noted that policy and institutional practices are often shaped by social institutions such as, gender. Thus for example, in Twigg and Bhatt’s (1998) study in Gujarat, 36% of women among the respondents were the sole breadwinners in their households and another 18% contributed 50% of household income, but when dole for work is given by non-governmental organisations it is mostly for men.

Other cultural institutions such as the use of assets for traditional investments, such as dowries in India and Nepal and ghewa in Tamang communities in Nepal, also have a major negative impact on livelihood. The concerned people should change or eliminate all cultural institutions that have negative impact on their livelihoods. Being a very sensitive issue it should be started through the local and concerned groups of the people.


The majority of the initial SL models had a rural focus, including those developed by the UNDP on the basis of the 1987 UN Environment Summit, and that developed by the IDS (Chambers and Conway, 1992) and subsequently taken up by the UK-DFID, which have a concern with the relationship between rural poverty and the environment, and have their roots in Integrated Rural Development (Tacoli, 1998).

Livelihood strategies: These are the planned activities that men and women undertake to build their livelihood. They usually include a range of activities designed to build asset bases and access to goods and services for consumption. Livelihood strategies include coping strategies designed to respond to shocks in the short term, and adaptive strategies designed to improve circumstances in the long term. The assets and opportunities available to as well as by the choices and preferences of men and women with diverse cultural backgrounds determine livelihood strategies.

Livelihood outcomes: These are the results of women and men’s livelihood strategies and feed back into the vulnerability context and asset bases, with successful strategies allowing them to build asset bases as a buffer against shocks and stresses, as opposed to resource-poor livelihood outcomes which deplete asset bases, and increases vulnerability. Livelihood outcomes may therefore lead into either virtuous or vicious cycles. While broadly overlapping in terms of these core principles and this framework, the SL models adopted by different organisations vary in their details.

The livelihood strategies that resource-poor men and women employ in order to make a living and to promote their households’ security can be categorized according to a variety of criteria.

Coping strategies-These are short-term responses to a specific shock (such as job loss of a major earner in the household, or his/her illness), and

Adaptive strategies-These are a long-term change in behaviour patterns as a result of a shock or stress or in an attempt to build asset bases (Singh and Gilman, 1999).

Both have implications for the composition of the assets (i.e. depletion, regeneration). In addition to defining types of livelihood strategies according to their time frame, and the extent to which are they are viewed as part of a long term plan rather than a temporary response to necessity, attempts have also been made to define livelihood strategies, or components of livelihood strategies, according to the nature of the activities they are involved in. Rakodi (1999) distinguishes the following types of strategy:

_investment in securing more of an asset – this may promote security and also allow for diversification or intensification of activities; substitution of one asset for another – for example, compensating for the declining availability or quality of natural capital by increasing inputs of physical capital; disposal – the sale of assets such as livestock, land or jewelry, to compensate for a consumption shortfall or to release funds for investment; _sacrifice – for example, not investing time and resources in fostering reciprocal social relations, thereby reducing future ability to draw on social capital; sacrificing children’s ability to earn adequate incomes in future by withdrawing them from school because of the inability to pay fees or need for their labour.

Another general characterization of different types of livelihood strategies distinguishes between strategies that are:

_income-enhancing; _expenditure-reducing – especially significant if the former are limited by a ceiling; based on collective support ; and _external representation – negotiation with local authorities, NGOs, etc.

It is argued that policy will be more effective and equitable if it begins with an understanding of household-level strategies, and uses a livelihood systems framework to understand the linkages between smaller units such as households and communities and the larger scale economic social and political processes operating in and on the city (Beall and Kanji, 1999).

Local Initiatives: the Seeds of Change

Local civil society initiatives have helped to organize women and marginalised groups of people in South Asia. In Pakistani village of Thatta Ghulamka, women’s doll-making expertise has turned into an income generating enterprise. In India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has helped to organise women workers in the informal sector. Before these efforts, women in the informal sector faced exploitation in the form of low wages and job insecurity (HDSA, 2000).

A number of civil society organisations such as Grameen Bank, Proshikha and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad (BUP) in Bangladesh; Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN), Institute of Sustainable Agriculture Nepal (INSAN) in Nepal; Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), Shirkat Gah (Women’s Resource Centre), SUNGI Development Foundation in Pakistan; Women in Need (WIN) in Sri Lanka; CHETNA, Lokayan, GEMS, Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) are just a few non-governmental organizations that are engaged in women’s and marginalised group’s collective empowerment and mobilization for the attainment of sustainable livelihood at local level. Most of these organisations have been operating within the framework of social justice, gender equality and sustainable development. However, many organisations have sectoral focus (HDSA, 2000; Rajbhandari, 2001; Zia & Gadi, 2001; Mumtaz, 1999; Shiva, 1999). Detailed information about the approaches and initiatives of these and thousands of other civil society groups in the region can be obtained from their respective web sites.

The civil society groups in South Asia are working in a geographically limited area or at micro-levels. These areas with people's responses in action or encounters against economic globalisation within the framework of social justice and sustainable livelihood represent the ‘glocalities’. These local innovations can be rather need to be scaled-up through two basic processes: replication in new locality; and expansion to involve larger group of people. ‘Replication will require the emergence of new actors or new social entrepreneurs, who can replicate within a community what was achieved elsewhere. Expansion, by contrast, may take the form of linking up a number of different local innovations taking them into a new phase of development’ (Amalric, 1998).


Based on the experiences of the civil society groups in South Asia, some general implications of the SL approach for sustainable rural development have been made hereunder. These implications are basic and cannot be implemented without considering local context and local people’s aspirations and need. Empowerment and mobilization of the resource-poor and women groups is the pre-requisite for implementing SLAs for rural development in South Asia. Biological diversity, indigenous knowledge system, organic agriculture and sustainable utilization of the productive natural resources in the ownership of the local people’s democratic institutions/organisation should be in the focus of SL interventions. ‘Experiences of the countries of South Asia have revealed that priority should be given to the establishment of socio-economic structures, diffusion of technology among small farmers, evolution of a relevant institutional framework, promotion of non-agricultural activities, and human resource development’ (Bista, 1999).

Need for organizational change

As mentioned earlier, the principles of the SLA include features such as the need o be people-centered, multi-level and holistic. Therefore, if the bodies involved in development and governance intend to deliver SLAs, there may be a need for organizational change as many institutions are not equipped to operate in this manner. The need for organizational change in rural institutions to deliver SLs already has started in many ways, due to the focus over recent decades on participatory governance and decentralization. Nevertheless, local people and institutions need support for capacity building and social mobilization.

Entry points and collective empowerment

The focus of SL on people-centered approaches suggests that specific points of intervention, or sectors that is to be addressed should be determined through consultation with the concerned community groups. In a number of cases, SLA is incorporated into the existing projects or programs that already have a sectoral focus. However, while these focus reflects the interest of the institutions carrying out the research, and are therefore, to a certain extent, ‘supply-driven’, this does not necessarily mean that using the SL approach in this way is not useful. It has been argued that despite the sectoral entry points of many SL interventions, SL approaches are useful as they can widen the focus and ongoing impacts of sectoral interventions. Animation and collective empowerment of the marginalised people is an effective entry point for SL intervention in rural settings in Nepal. Sustainable livelihood approaches should start finding its place in the communities with a plan of animation/collective empowerment and social mobilization, which is the wheel of change (Rajbhandari, 1999 & 2000).

Long-term interventions and social mobilization

The most successful initiatives involve long-term processes that increase the options for the resource-poor and women, local decision making and planning (social mobilization) is developed, and the exchanges among the civil society groups lead to improved sharing and learning. This would mean a focus on activities around local participatory governance, decentralization, policy advocacy and strengthening of local people’s democratic institution. Participation of the local people should be ensured throughout the processes of resource identification, capacity building, planning, program implementation, monitoring and impact assessment (Rajbhandari, 2000).

Building linkages

There is a need to work with existing people’s initiatives in order to initiate SLAs for sustainable rural development focusing on those programs and institutions that offer the most scope for incorporating SL approaches. In the countries of South Asia, this could be done through two broad approaches. One would be to work with overarching rural development programs that could incorporate SL analysis as a methodology. Another approach for linking with existing initiatives would be to identify ongoing sectoral programs to support on the basis of an SL analysis.

One important area highlighted by the SL approach, through its focus on the everyday vulnerability faced by individuals and households, is that development activities need to address and safeguard against sources of vulnerability. This has institutional implications for organisations working in development and disaster mitigation, which are normally seen as distinct areas of activity and dealt with by distinct departments or agencies. In fact, the SL approach highlights the need to build mitigation measures into ongoing development work in order to make them effective in protecting against vulnerability. ‘The time has come for governments to pay attention to all models of health care and campaigns, which worked. This needs at regional levels both a convergence of social principles and a divergence, which may be necessary for ensuring local acceptability and success-an approach, which is united on being empowering to all users, sustainable and sensitive to unequal relations of power such as class, gender, and race. An action plan needs to be common to both government and private health care financing matching programmes, strategies, financial outlays and exercise for dovetailing’ (Raghuram and Ray, 1999).

Environmental sustainability and sustainable agriculture

A linked concern for SL approaches in rural areas is the emphasis on the relationship between household livelihood strategies and environmental sustainability. This link is clear in those rural areas, where households are directly dependent on, and often forced to deplete natural resources for their livelihood activities.

A number of NGOs have been engaged in collective empowerment and social mobilization for environment protection, sustainability of ecology, and sustainable livelihood employing the approach of sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD). Integrated animation and bio-intensive farming system or sustainable agriculture along with right-based approach is found effective in the rural settings in Nepal, Pakistan and India (Rajbhandari 1999-2002; Zia and Gadi, 2001; Shiva, 1999).

Implementation of SLA linking with the Rights-Based Concept

Rights in this context are claims that have been legitimised by social structures and norms. They include civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. In an ideal view, rights are universal in that they apply to everyone, and are indivisible, i.e. they are all equally important. For development agencies, the concern is not just with what rights people should be entitled to, but also with understanding whether people can claim the provisions to which these rights entitle them, and how the capacity of groups currently excluded from these entitlements can be enhanced. This interpretation offers scope for closer interaction with the new architecture of aid and with SL approaches. In this interpretation, right-based approach (RBAs) can include the following:

_strengthening people’s organisations;
_information and education to the resource-poor/local people about their human rights;
mainstreaming gender in development
_participatory planning that allows people to define their own priorities (social mobilization);
_training to the government officers for effective service delivery and ensuring equity of treatment;
_reform of discriminatory laws and policies;
_monitoring of the performance of public institutions and the budget process by civil society organisations in order to enhance downward accountability; and
_strengthening the capabilities of police and the courts.

There is considerable overlap in the founding principles of rights-based and SLAs, and both emphasize the importance of influencing policies, institutions and processes in order to enable people to achieve better access to resources and entitlements. The main difference between them is that rights-based approaches are concerned more with the people’s entitlements, while SLAs seek to assess the impact of certain entitlements on people’s livelihood.

SLAs and RBAs share the following major concerns:

a desire to identify the various causes of poverty and their solutions; participation of women and resource-poor in influencing the policy-making, planning and delivery of the services and support they need; _working across sectors and areas promoting partnerships among public and private organisations, and civil society groups; _promoting the process of socio-economic change or transformation; monitoring closely the impact of relevant policies and programmes. promoting the sustainability of people’s capacity to manage their resources and livelihood .

SL analysis can contribute to the design and implementation of ecosystem-specific or country-level development strategies by:

identifying groups of resource-poor people based on the major sources of their livelihood;
_identifying the main sources of vulnerability associated with these livelihood;
_identifying the main assets having direct impact on their livelihood, e.g. physical assets such as land, water and forest, economic assets such as employment opportunities, and social assets such as informal safety nets;
_identifying the qualitative aspects of the above;

It can also support implementation of the strategies by:

_emphasizing the heterogeneity of the resource-poor or women, of conditions that cause poverty, and of the ways of addressing poverty;
_identifying entry points and sequences for policy intervention so that implementation structures and procedures can be designed for improved access of the resource-poor or women to the public administration, and increased downward accountability by the administration. Depending on local circumstances, such approaches might involve greater decentralization of administrative responsibility and the prospect of closer collaboration among government offices at local and central level;
_identifying the qualitative and quantitative impact of existing policies and programmes on livelihood; and
_identifying implementation constraints.

General Conclusions and Suggestions

The first important advantage of the sustainable livelihood approach is that the resource-constrained rural people are at the focal point of the concept, and attempt is made to address the commonly neglected dimensions of their livelihood with their direct engagement.

Various issues and concern of sustainable livelihood approach include the multidimensional nature of poverty, the diverse and dynamic nature of the rural people’s coping strategies for survival, the complex nature of the vulnerability of the people with diversity, and the complexities of accessing both capital assets and entitlements they deserve;

There is growing evidence of the advantages of SL that they generate better livelihood options and political spaces for the marginalised, and improve ‘processes’ by ‘placing’ all development agency, government and civil society groups on an equal footing, and encourage them to focus centrally on the resource-poor and their conditions. The concept and approach of sustainable livelihood originated in rural contexts, but some studies have shown that it can be effectively applied in urban context in South Asia and other regions as well.

There are a number of areas in which livelihood approaches should have space for operation or intervention. These include: strengthening skill & indigenous knowledge system; improvement in nutrition, health and sanitation; environment protection and food production; self-employment and capital asset building; and creating political spaces for all segments and groups of people within the framework of social justice and equity.

South Asian people’s initiatives in micro-levels and the experiences of the countries of South Asia have revealed that the government’s and civil society group’s efforts should be directed to:

Promote broad-based agricultural and rural development making use of agro-ecological principles, indigenous knowledge system and local biodiversity;
Promote civil society groups, and assure property rights and collective action within the frame work of gender equity;
Empower women and resource-poor (socially, culturally, economically and politically);
Ensure that markets are not biased against small-farmers, less-favoured areas, or food-insecure groups;
Invest in research with focus on pro-poor or small farmers’ needs and problems; Pursue affordable alternative energy technology (using wind, water, solar and bio-gas);
Keep sustainable development in less-favoured areas with the mobilization of resource-poor and marginalised groups in the first priority of the national development agenda


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The author can be reached at the Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology (HICAST)

Purbanchal University, P.O. Box 13233, Kathmandu, NEPAL
Email: hicast@wlink.com.np