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Unlike “health” or “water and sanitation”, “livelihoods” is a broad term whose meaning is not immediately apparent. Basically it is about how people support themselves. It looks at the physical and social resources to which families have access and the strategies they use to meet their basic needs. Many different factors affect how a family makes a living.
The primary rural livelihoods are animal husbandry and cultivation, though there are myriad other strategies mixed in. Most large aid programmes in rural areas focus on these two livelihoods so guidelines are easiest to find for them. In coastal areas, fishing is also a major livelihood. In urban settings more livelihoods are cash-based so most aid programmes are focused on businesses and general income generation strategies.
Livelihoods are context-specific. All the components of livelihoods will change drastically from one context to another.
Aid programmes aimed at livelihoods range from family-level interventions, to infrastructure and institutions, to advocacy for policy change at the national level. Programmes that address multiple levels simultaneously are generally most effective.
To understand what Livelihoods means and the dynamics of livelihoods, a good website that provides some explanation is www.livelihoods.org, run by the Institute of Development Studies. It contains guidance sheets on the “Sustainable Livelihoods Approach” in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Tamil, and a great deal of other information on Livelihoods programming.
Most resources and guidelines address interventions at the family level, though Oxfam-UK speaks to advocacy issues throughout its website at www.oxfam.org.uk/what_we_do/issues/index.htm. Livelihoods papers are currently listed at www.oxfam.org.uk/what_we_do/issues/livelihoods/papers.htm
but the exact address may change so you may have to hunt through their website.
Throughout all types of aid programmes, the local economies play an enormous role. Even subsistence farming depends to a certain degree on the local economy. Assistance that ignores this dynamic is much less effective and less sustainable. Livelihoods programmes are moving towards supporting local systems and the local economy rather than developing parallel systems that compete with normal systems. A primary tool emerging is the use of cash-based programming. Oxfam has the most developed resources to guide a newcomer to cash-based approaches. Their primary manual is downloadable at: http://publications.oxfam.org.uk/oxfam/display.asp?isbn=0855985631.
Agriculture can refer to both cultivation as well as animal husbandry. These are the two main livelihoods of rural households and often the primary source of income for many developing countries. On this page, we will use it to mean cultivation.
There are numerous agencies working in agriculture. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is often considered a lead agency. Their agriculture page is a bit overwhelming but chock full of information and has many external links to explore: www.fao.org/ag.
The FAO Agricultural Support Systems Division is a bit more focused, though still has large amounts of information to sift through: www.fao.org/ag/ags/index.html.
Animal Husbandry-based Programmes
Most rural households depend at least to some extent on animal husbandry. Pastoralist and agro-pastoralist societies depend heavily on animal husbandry. Most aid programmes in this area have focused on restocking and de-stocking herds. More recently, they have tried to address more complex issues of water, land access, animal health, and market access. If anyone knows of a good, simple guide for animal-based livelihoods programmes, please let us know.
Oxfam has a web page with several resources addressing assistance to pastoralist communities: www.oxfam.org.uk/what_we_do/issues/pastoralism/index.htm. This website also has many external links to other sites with useful information on animal husbandry.
Fisheries and the Fishing Industry
Often in coastal communities, most families depend either directly or indirectly on the fishing industry. The term “fishing industry” here includes not only the actual catching of fish, but all the support services, processing and intermediaries in the chain between the water and a buyer. Inland areas often use pisciculture (fisheries) to grow fish in ponds. Fishing is both a primary source of protein in many diets and a source of income for many communities. The loss of this livelihood can result in malnutrition, migration and general economic hardship.
When looking at fish-based interventions, consider the many different businesses that may branch out from the business of simply catching or raising fish and the gender roles involved. For example, a relatively rich man may own a boat and rent it to a group of 5 men who own or rent nets. These men catch fish and sell it to buyers on the beach. The buyer may pay to have the fish put on ice while he amasses enough to make a trip to the city or he may hire women to smoke the fish. The women in turn purchase driftwood collected by the poorest people who scavenge the wood off the beach. Interventions or crises that affect any one point in this chain will have an impact throughout the chain. Understand the full chain and the vulnerability of the people involved in each step before designing a response.
FAO has a fisheries unit with loads of technical information on fisheries, most of it developmental in nature. Enter “Technical Guidelines” in the site search engine on www.fao.org to find practical advice.
Two most useful pages within the web site are:
Aquaculture (fish ponds)
Marine (ocean) Fisheries
Microcredit and Income Generation
See the AWN advice page on Microcredit.
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