Rural livelihood systems are very much based on agricultural production and the availability of natural resources, especially land and water. Especially in areas faced by a shortage of water, methods for managing the scarce resources and increasing their efficient usage play an important role in securing the subsistence level, food and nutrition security as well as monetary income of rural households. The concept of “livelihoods” helps scientists as well as practitioners in the development sector to understand and analyse problems, demand and potentials with a household-centred view and thus derive holistic approaches to address these issues.
The concept of livelihoods
A livelihood may be defined as all capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and economic and social activities for obtaining all necessities for life.
It can comprise (among others): producing/ gathering food, producing goods, offering services, trading, wage labour, migration or rent-seeking-activities. Livelihoods vary significantly between urban and rural areas and even within villages. Usually a livelihood consists of a plurality of strategies to obtain vital goods. Thus livelihoods are not static and their elements (resp. the importance of particular elements) change over time. This can be best seen in areas heavily exposed to rapid environmental changes or catastrophic events.
As a tool for understanding and assessing livelihoods the UK Department for International Development (DFID) developed the Sustainable Livelihood Approach in the 1990s (Fig.1.).
Figure 1: The Sustainable Livelihood Framework (Source DFID 1999)
The core of the framework is formed by five livelihood asset-types (Human capital, Social capital, Natural capital, Physical capital and Financial capital) which are transformed when applied into livelihood outcomes. The access to and the value of particular assets however is determined by transforming structures and processes. The diverse assets a household comprises are also influenced by the vulnerability context, including short-term shocks (droughts, armed conflicts etc.) as well as long-term stresses (e.g. climate change).
Livelihoods in the context of agricultural water management
In the context of the Sustainable Livelihood Framework measures for managing the use of water for agriculture play an important role in reducing the vulnerability of households towards shocks from outside and long-term stresses. In the long run it may help the people in building assets and leads to stable livelihood outcomes. Livelihood centred approaches have a long tradition in development cooperation and distinguish from production based approaches by its focus on the household and the search for integrated solutions in the local context. Agriculture plays an important role in many rural livelihood systems as a major source of income from selling of crops as well as for subsistence concerning food supply. For the agricultural production and sufficient crop yields, natural resources such as water for sufficient irrigation as well as land and soil play an important role. Access and availability of irrigation water for food and fodder crop production is essential to secure the harvests and increase the yields. A fair and robust local water management is necessary to sustain livelihood systems and to cope with external shocks such as drought or floods and to increase the resilience of the rural households against climate change. Communal and local self-management of water resources and irrigation systems within an institution or organization allowing participation of the water users can help foster social relations and networks and thus again strengthen rural livelihood systems.
How to improve livelihoods in rainfed and irrigated areas?
Improving livelihoods means to strengthen the availability and utilisation of (resp. the access to) assets and therefore supporting the households to develop strategies that lead to sustainable livelihood outcomes. This can be done by altering given structures and processes.
Human capital: With regard to agricultural water management human capital mainly relates to knowledge and skills of managing the given water resources. In the context of high vulnerability to water scarcity, measures may comprise the introduction of new methods for storing water or new irrigation techniques (or reinventing old ones).
Natural capital: Natural capital refers to all kinds of natural resources that a household needs for production and consumption activities. In the context of agricultural water management, measures aim at securing the access to water and land.
Physical capital: Physical capital means access to all kinds of basic infrastructure as well as tools and technology. Typically investments in irrigation enhance physical capital by building and improving storage facilities, irrigation infrastructure such as intakes, water canals, water catchments etc.
Financial capital: Beside the property of money the term financial capital refers to the access to credits, remittances and governmental subsidies. Financial capital is important for operating and maintaining irrigation systems. Also the investments in new irrigation methods are limited to financial capital.
Social capital: This refers to social resources like formal and informal networks, membership in groups and the access to social institutions. Strong social capital is important in implementing community based approaches (like small-scale irrigation schemes) and can help to absorb financial shocks.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (ed.) (2008): Water and the Rural Poor: Interventions for improving livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rome.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Department for International Development (1999): Sustainable livelihoods guidance sheets. London. http://www.ennonline.net/pool/files/ife/dfid-sustainable-livelihoods-guidance-sheet-section1.pdf
[accessed 17 April 2013]
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Birtel, M. (2007): Makrostruktureller Wandel und lokale Haushaltsstrategien im postsozialistischen Rumänien. Münster.