Rural Livelihood

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India’s strong economic growth has consistently tried to include the rural population, which is concentrated in areas where rain fed agriculture is the main economic activity. However poverty persists because of limited and inequitable access to productive resources, such as land, water, improved inputs and technologies and microfinance, as well as vulnerability to drought and other natural disasters. Low levels of literacy and skills conspire to keep people in the poverty trap, preventing them from claiming their basic rights or from embarking on new activities to earn income or build assets. These multifarious and all pervasive issues required a common national effort for solution. The concept of sustainable rural livelihood emerged so as to alleviate the ever increasing problem of rural poverty. Drawing on Chambers and Conway (1992) among others, the IDS team’s definition of sustainable livelihood is as follows: “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.” The above definition can be disaggregated into five key elements where the first three components focus on livelihoods, linking concerns over work and employment with poverty reduction with broader issues of adequacy, security, well being and capability. The last two elements talk bout sustainability dimension focusing on resiliency building and natural resource base. The five components are as follows: 1)Creation of working days

2)Poverty reduction
3)Well being and capabilities
4)Livelihood adaptation, vulnerability and resilience
5)Natural resource base sustainability


1)Creation of working days: It talks about the ability of a particular combination of livelihood strategies to generate gainful employment for a certain portion of the year. It might be on or off farm, part of wage labor or subsistence production. 3 aspects of employment have been recognized here i.e. –income, production and recognition.

2)Poverty reduction: The poverty level is a key criterion in the assessment of livelihoods. Various measures are used to develop an absolute ‘poverty line’ measure based on income or consumption. They are often used in combination with more qualitative indicators of livelihood.

3)Well being and capabilities: The notions of well being and capability provide a wider definitional scope for the livelihood concept. This approach may allow people themselves to define the criteria which are important and not just only material concerns of food intake or income such as self esteem, security, happiness, stress, power etc.

4)Livelihood adaptation, vulnerability and resilience: Resiliency in the times of stress and shocks is central to both livelihood adaptation and coping. The inability to cope or adapt leads to vulnerability and unsustainability. The analysis of various factors such as history of such shocks and responses and the variation in shocks or stress resulting into different responses is very crucial.

5)Natural resource base sustainability: Rural livelihood is largely dependent on natural resource base which gives the need to avoid depleting stocks of natural resource to a level which results in its permanent decline. Measuring resource sustainability is very difficult as factors like temporal dynamics of system resilience and livelihood needs are to be kept in mind.

The above five indicators of sustainable livelihood are different from each other in scope ranging from quantitative assessment to qualitative techniques. The concept of sustainable livelihood is always subject to negotiation giving way to trade offs and contradictions. The above...
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