Livelihoods in Southern Africa are in crisis. One of the worst ever food crises has hit the region, with over 14 million reported to be at risk. Newspapers appeal from charities for support, and TV images of food queues and malnourished children are commonplace. Yet, Southern Africa is the region where the development success story was supposed to unfold. This was the bread basket of the continent, where economic reforms were apparently generating growth and investment and where the great hopes of democratic transition were supposed to show quick dividends. According to the script, the crisis was not supposed to happen.
The research on which this paper is based has attempted to examine how various rural development and governance initiatives, concerning wild resources, land and water, have played out in practice in a series of rural areas in three southern African countries: Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. By looking empirically and in detail at what has and has not happened on the ground, questions are raised about the nature of the current livelihoods crisis, its origins and potential solutions.
Challenges for Rural Development in Southern Africa, perhaps not surprisingly, is a complex story connecting livelihood change with the dynamics of politics and power, where easy technical or managerial solutions are not immediately evident.
That Africa has not gained from economic reforms and globalisation is by now widely accepted. That something needs to be done is agreed upon by everyone. But the solutions are elusive. A recent flurry of initiatives has emerged, with the New Economic Partnership for Africa (NEPAD) being the most prominent.’ Led by African leaders, including Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa, this offers a familiar cocktail of policy measures, combining further neo-liberal economic reform, technology transfer and support for social service provision, especially health and education, all within a framework of so-called “good governance”. As many have pointed out, NEPAD is in many respects barely distinguishable from the current orthodoxy promoted by most aid agencies and the international financial institutions through the mechanisms of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (Pups)’ and other sectoral interventions.
But are these initiatives on the right track? Do they really respond to the challenges of livelihood vulnerability in rural southern Africa? Are these responses offering something new, or is this old wine in new bottles? As in the rest of Africa, poverty remains concentrated in rural areas. Many of these are remote, with poor infrastructure, limited services provision and far from the centres of power and decision-making
The “Sustainable Livelihoods” Approach
In the 1970s, many development practitioners were concerned about the famines that were taking place in Africa and Asia, and a concerted effort was made to put more resources into increasing food supplies globally. Out of this concern, the CGIAR centres - (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) now carried out as CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers - were born, and significant increases in food supplies were created through crop research.
However, as we transitioned into the 1980s, many development practitioners realized that even with significant national-level surpluses, many households were still not obtaining adequate amounts of food for a healthy life. It was determined that many households did not have enough income or resources to exchange for food to meet their food needs. This led to a shift from national food security to a concern with the food security and nutritional status of households and individuals. Farming systems research, focusing on the production activities of poor households, also provided a new perspective on the way to view the production and consumption decisions of households.
In the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, researchers began to widen their perspective from food security to a livelihood perspective. Some of the first writings on sustainable livelihoods were beginning to appear in the farming systems literature in the late 1980s.
During the 1990s until the present, there has been a shift from a material perspective focused on food production to a social perspective that focuses on the enhancement of peoples' capacities to secure their own livelihoods. Much of this thinking is derived from the participatory approaches that have become well integrated into the various implementing agencies' activities for project diagnosis and design.
A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from the stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future without undermining the natural resource base (Chambers & Conway).
Household livelihood security.
“A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, while not undermining the natural resource base.” Chambers and Conway (1992)
The ‘sustainable livelihoods’ (SL) framework is increasingly important in the Natural Resources Management NRM-development debate. The framework shows how, in different contexts, sustainable livelihoods are achieved through access to a range of livelihood resources (natural, economic, human and social capitals) which are combined in the pursuit of different livelihood strategies.
The SL framework places people, particularly rural poor people, at the centre of a web of inter-related influences that affect how these people create a livelihood for themselves and their households. People and communities are recognized as users, producers, managers and custodians of natural resources. Their participation in management decisions, policies, projects and research has always been recognized as central for NRM. Recently, it has become necessary to re-examine the role of communities and to recognise their contributions to NRM. NRM requires dynamic communities and local practices and supportive community-based mechanisms and institutions that regulate the management of natural resources, particularly common pool resources that make the best use of natural resources. Adaptation to climate change will, to a very large degree, depend on the capacities of communities to adapt to change and recover from shocks.
Closest to the people at the centre of the framework are the resources and livelihood assets that they have access to and use. The livelihood assets also known as the asset pentagon comprise of:
i). Natural capital: the natural resource stocks (forest, soil, water, air, genetic resources etc.) and environmental services (hydrological cycle, pollution, sinks, etc) from which resource flows and services useful for livelihoods are derived.
ii). Financial capital: the capital base (cash, credit/debt, savings, and other economic assets, including basic infrastructure and production equipment and technologies) which are essential for the pursuit of any livelihood strategy.
iii). Human capital: the skills, knowledge, ability to labour and good health and physical capability important for the successful pursuit of different livelihood strategies.
iv). Social capital: the social resources (networks, social claims, social relations, affiliations, associations) upon which people draw when pursuing different livelihood strategies requiring coordinated actions.
v). Physical capital: productive assets, such as housing, tools, infrastructure, water supplies, schools, social amenities whose ownership can contribute to improving livelihoods or income.
The extent of people’s access to these assets is strongly influenced by their vulnerability context, which takes account of trends (for example, economic, political, technological, etc.), shocks (for example, epidemics, natural disasters, civil strife) and seasonality (for example, rains, droughts, employment opportunities). Access is also influenced by the prevailing social, institutional and political environment, which affects the ways in which people combine and use their assets to achieve their goals.
There are three insights into poverty which underpin this new approach:
The first is the realization that while economic growth may be essential for poverty reduction, there is not an automatic relationship between the two since it all depends on the capabilities of the poor to take advantage of expanding economic opportunities.
Secondly, there is the realization that poverty as conceived by the poor themselves is not just a question of low income, but also includes other dimensions such as bad health, illiteracy, lack of social services, etc., as well as a state of vulnerability and feelings of powerlessness in general.
Finally, it is now recognized that the poor themselves often know their situation and needs best and must therefore be involved in the design of policies and project intended to better their lot.
There is no unified approach to applying the SL concept. Depending on the agency it can be used primarily as an analytical framework (or tool) for programme planning and assessment or as a programme in itself. There are, however, three basic features common to most approaches:
- The first is that the focus is on the livelihoods of the poor.
- The second is that the approach rejects the standard procedure of conventional approaches of taking as an entry point a specific sector such as agriculture, water, or health.
- And finally, the SL approach places great emphasis on involving people in both the identification and the implementation of activities where appropriate.
Three factors shed light on why the SL approach has been applied to poverty reduction. The first is the realization that while economic growth may be essential for poverty reduction, there is no automatic relationship between the two since it all depends on the capabilities of the poor to take advantage of expanding economic opportunities. Thus, it is important to find out what precisely it is that prevents or constrains the poor from improving their lot in a given situation, so that support activities could be designed accordingly. Secondly, there is the realization that poverty — as conceived by the poor themselves is not just a question of low income, but also includes other dimensions such as bad health, illiteracy, lack of social services, etc., as well as a state of vulnerability and feelings of powerlessness in general. Moreover, it is now realized that there are important links between different dimensions of poverty such that improvements in one have positive effects on another.
Raising people’s educational level may have positive effects on their health standards, which in turn may improve their production capacity. Reducing poor people’s vulnerability in terms of exposure to risk may increase their propensity to engage in previously untested but more productive economic activities, and so on. Finally, it is now recognized that the poor themselves often know their situation and needs best and must therefore be involved in the design of policies and projects intended to better their lot. Given a say in design, they are usually more committed to implementation. Thus, participation by the poor improves project performance.
Several international development agencies are now applying such a ‘livelihoods approach’ in their practical development work. As we shall see in the following section, however, it is difficult to talk of one unified approach since each agency has adopted a somewhat different version, ranging from seeing it primarily as an analytical framework (or tool) for programme planning and assessment, to a particular type of programme in itself. There are, however, three basic features which most approaches have in common. The first is that the approach focuses on the livelihoods of the poor, since poverty reduction is at its core. The second is that it rejects the usual sectoral entry point (e.g. agriculture, water, or health) and instead begins with an analysis of people’s current livelihood systems to identify an appropriate intervention. The final feature is its emphasis on involving people in the identification and implementation of activities where appropriate.
National Resources Management for Sustainable Livelihood
In sustainable livelihood projects, the goal of NRM development projects is to enhance wellbeing and livelihoods of a variety of stakeholders with a responsibility to sustain the natural resource base so that future generations can meet their needs. Chapin (2009) suggests that the simplest approach is to sustain the inclusive wealth of the natural system, i.e., the total capital (natural, physical, human, and social) that constitutes the productive base available to society. Since natural and social capitals are the most difficult components of capital to renew, once they are degraded, these are the most critical components of inclusive wealth to sustain.
Future generations depend most critically on those components of natural capital that cannot be regenerated or created over time scales of years to decades. These include: soil resources that govern the productive potential of the land; biodiversity that constitutes the biological reservoir of future options; regulation of the climate system that governs future environment; and cultural identity and inspirational services that provide a connection between people and the land or sea (Chapin, 2009).
Slow growth in manufactured and agricultural exports have been attributed to the high share of natural resources in many African economies. Not only does the resource sector draw labour and capital away from other sectors, but the spending of resource revenues in the domestic economy bids up the price of non-tradable goods, making the traditional tradable sector less competitive. This paper argues that an important and neglected linkage is through the public sector. Since government receives a large portion of resource revenues, the public sector booms alongside the resource sector. But the government is largely unaccountable for the spending of these revenues, since they are not raised via taxes on citizens. The result is pro-cyclical fiscal policies, macroeconomic instability, costly investment projects, a bloated public sector, and leakage of public funds, all of which further work against private-sector competitiveness. One solution may be to transfer natural-resource revenues directly to citizens and then tax them to finance public expenditure. The increased accountability could improve the effectiveness of the public sector and therefore the competitiveness of the private sector.
Ian Scoones, Institute of Development Studies
Timothy R. Frankenberger, CARE