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|Title: ||Alternative livelihoods and sustainable resource management|
|Authors: ||Inkoom, Daniel K. B.|
|Issue Date: ||2005|
|Publisher: ||Tropenbos International|
|Abstract: ||The promotion of Alternative Livelihoods (ALs) is seen by many as a viable way to improve rural livelihoods and reduce dependence on the forests. However, the basis for this optimism is sometimes premised on mere conjectures and little empirical evidence. As a contribution to the discussion on ALs, Tropenbos International-Ghana held a one-day focus group discussion aimed at deliberating on the variety of issues involved in Alternative Livelihoods in detail. This synthesis captures the major issues discussed, including good practices in the promotion of livelihoods, the major actual and potential livelihood options, the current experiences with these options, and the success factors. The key challenges with respect to each of these options are also identified. The report concludes by identifying how to respond to these challenges in order to improve incomes and reduce poverty, as well as minimize the dependence on forests.
Several definitions have been advanced for the concept of Alternative Livelihoods (ALs). The Development Alternatives Approach considers ALs as activities intended to help economically disadvantaged members of society to meet their daily subsistence needs in a manner that is dignified, locally appropriate, and environmentally sustainable. The concept is also perceived to represent a range of activities that utilize indigenous local customs and knowledge to take advantage of available natural resources for the benefit of individual and societal needs. (CEDEP, 2004). Alternative livelihoods may also be defined as those livelihoods existing outside traditional or established institutions or systems (American Heritage Dictionary, 2004)
The important attributes that can be identified in any definition of ALs include human capacities, tangible and intangible assets and economic activities.
The mention of Alternative Livelihoods implicitly suggests several scenarios, namely; that prevailing livelihoods are either not producing enough benefits for the individuals or communities engaged in them, or that current activities are in contravention of existing legislations, or pose a danger to the sustainability of other resources. In the context of agriculture-dominated economies, the resources at risk may be land, forest, or water bodies. Alternative livelihoods are therefore thought of in the context of providing livelihoods that may replace or supplement existing livelihoods that are in danger as a result of resource constraints, or those livelihoods that do not generate sufficient incomes to enable those engaged in them live decent lives.
Major Alternative Livelihood Activities
The major alternative livelihood activities presented at the forum can be grouped into three main categories, namely forest-based livelihoods, forest-related livelihoods and other ‘footloose’ activities that may not be related to the forest at all.
The actual forest-based activities include taungya schemes, rattan and bamboo collection, medicinal plants gathering, establishment of woodlot/nurseries, and forest enrichment planting. The potential in this category include eco-tourism and creation of sanctuaries for flora and fauna.
Forest–related livelihoods include temporary and permanent employment as forest guards, boundary cleaners, plantation developers, (private & public) load bearers, and stock survey labourers, among others. Potentially, individuals could earn a living as fire volunteers, licensed chain-saw operators and temporary forest guards.
The third category can be considered as ‘footloose’ activities that may not have linkages to the forest, including soap making, bead-making, pottery, aquaculture, snail rearing, piggery and the rearing of small ruminants (grasscutter, guinea pigs). Others in this category include batik/tie and dye, Kente weaving & cloth making, and poultry farming. Numerous as they are however, not all of them are actually being carried out everywhere. Some of these may be limited to specific geographical areas as a result of raw material availability (pottery) and tradition (Kente weaving), while others can be carried out everywhere (Batik/tie and dye, soap making, etc).
Two key experiences with forest-based livelihoods may be observed. Firstly, experiences with the gathering activities as presented by different authors indicate that these activities are especially important during periods in the farming calendar when agricultural tasks diminish, or when the need for cash is acute. Therefore considerable seasonal fluctuations occur in the degree of involvement, mainly as a result of changes in farm labour requirements, the increased need for cash during hardship periods, the seasonal availability of raw materials and some Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) and fluctuations in demand. The majority of forest-based cash earning activities usually decline during planting and harvesting periods, when farm labour requirements are high, but increase during the hunger season when people need money to buy staple foods. This seasonality is to be noted as individuals may use these activities as coping strategies.
Secondly, it was reported that plantations, woodlots, trees on crops and taungya systems, provided both economic and ecological benefits. There are examples of individuals and communities engaging in woodlot establishment for charcoal production, poles for electrification and construction, among others. Others include provision of commercial and subsistence value from trees such as fuel wood, fruits and/or timber, income from sale of food crops (plantain, cassava, cocoyam, yam) and vegetables (tomatoes, pepper, garden eggs), food supply for the rural household and soil fertility restoration by use of tree species that fix nitrogen and add litter through leaf fall to the soil.
Forest-related activities appear to benefit mainly forest-edge communities who, as a result of government forest policy of collaborative forest management, are engaged in the provision of various services in the forest reserves for the Forest Authorities. Though these provide regular streams of income, they may be seasonal, and remuneration may be low, compared with other activities that community members may have engaged in (both legal and illegal), and in spite of the fact that some of these activities sometimes pose a threat to the sustainability of forest resources.
Alternative livelihoods that may not have anything to do with the forest are many and varied, and experiences with these options indicate that much as they can be successful, there is the need for training and credit before engagement. Many of these activities, like snail farming and grass-cutter rearing require specialist training to ensure that the activities are successful. There have been instances where communities have lost large numbers of grass-cutters due to cold weather, for example. The need for training and large capital outlay can be said of other activities as soap making, batik/tie and dye production, Kente weaving, among others. In addition to these requirements, it appears as if this category of livelihood requires the greatest amount of initial capital inputs, which, for rural communities, where the incidence of poverty is high, may be difficult to come by.
Several factors have been identified as reasons for the successful implementation of particular livelihoods in the three categories mentioned; forest-based livelihoods, forest-related livelihoods, and ‘footloose’ activities. Broad government policies that seek to reduce poverty in the rural areas appear to hold the key to successful implementation of ALs. This is particularly the case if the policies find expression at the lowest levels of government and are exemplified by specific actions like the provision of credit and market access to those engaged in the activities. Many sub-Saharan African countries have undertaken Poverty Reduction Strategies and with proper targeting, these strategies could support ALs to reduce poverty and minimize dependence on the forest. Again, the conceptual shift in the management of forests in favour of collaborating with local communities in sustaining the forest allows community members to engage in ALs with good returns. Forestry Services, as in Ghana, for example employ reserve-fringe community members in formal temporal and permanent employment in the forest reserves.
In addition to the above, other success factors identified include: the ease with which people enter the particular alternative livelihood (this finds expression in access to training and capital in the form of micro-financing); incorporation of sustainability issues right from the start; putting in place institutional structures that provide for self-monitoring (or a form of peer review mechanism) together with a technical back-up support; the availability of ready markets or market development for the products is another key factor. Livelihood schemes associated with traditional and festive occasions also tend to succeed, since such occasions tend to provide a captive market, even though this may be periodic in nature. Again, local supply and the availability of the raw material do help ensure the success of the activity.
Finally, the role that organisations have played in popularizing and sustaining ALs is also crucial. Bi-lateral development organizations, Non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, community-based and civil society organizations, farmer-based organizations and key individuals have all played crucial roles in ensuring the success of ALs.
Most of the ALs mentioned above, particularly grass-cutter rearing, snail farming, mushroom cultivation, as well as soap making, batik/tie and dye production have been championed by bilateral organizations and NGOs as projects with specific time frames. Experience has shown that inasmuch as many projects have succeeded in the pilot or infant stages, many challenges remain when institutional support is withdrawn from the communities, and individuals and groups have to cater for themselves.
Again, it is important to ensure that ALs provide a steady stream of cash flow, because of the fact that most of the communities that engage in the alternative livelihood activities have to grapple with how to cope in the lean or off season periods of their current economic activities. The challenge still remains as to how ALs that individuals engage in can complement other economic activities to ensure a steady flow of income to those engaged in them. Long gestation Alternative Livelihoods, like plantation development have to be supported with short-term income generating activities so as to cushion individuals and groups.
There is also the challenge of ensuring that livelihood activities reduce adverse impacts on seasonality, because some livelihoods may lead to lower agricultural productivity, and eventually cause food prices to increase.
For forest based activities in particular, the challenge is how to ensure that the activities are carried out on a sustainable basis, to allow the resource to regenerate, and ensure a steady stream of benefits.
Another key challenge is the availability of ready markets for the products. There have been instances of difficulty in finding markets for mushrooms and shea butter, for example, and this gives reason for concern, especially when the activity has benefited from credit financing.
Finally, there is the challenge of public attitude to some of the products of the Livelihoods. There is for example the perception that the meat of animals (grass-cutter and snail) from the wild is tastier than the meat from domesticated sources, and thus domesticated animals do not meet the quality standards preferred. There are however no facts to prove that this is the case. This perception, however, can affect the marketing of domesticated ruminants.
Responding to the challenges to improve incomes and reduce dependence on forests
Several actions can be taken to respond to the challenges enumerated above. First of all, it is important when promoting ALs to examine the geographical, social, cultural and economic contexts of communities before start-off. In this way, skills acquisition and sustainability of the activity can be ensured.
There is the need to ensure that training is provided for new entrants. In addition to the individuals engaged in the activity, community-based focal persons need to be trained to ensure that the knowledge base on ALs is broadened, and is community-based. This will enable individuals in the communities to have direct access to technical and other extension support needed for the ALs. Training should also not be a one-off activity, but continuous, with in-built monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. This will ensure that participants acquire the necessary skills to enable them succeed in their activities.
Credit needs to be provided on terms that will make it easy for individuals and groups to start their activities. Credit that is provided should go with training to enable clients succeed in their ventures, and are also able to repay credits advanced to them. Where possible, group credit should be encouraged as this provides motivation for hard work and recovery of loans.
For livelihood activities that require large inputs of energy, e.g. soap making, alternative forms of energy should be encouraged. Fuel efficient stoves such as those used in cassava processing should be encouraged in order to reduce the dependence on fuel wood which tends to degrade the environment. Complementarities should also be explored in this regard, for example the establishment of woodlots could complement the use of fuel efficient stoves.
To ensure sustainability, there is the need to integrate any interventions in ALs into local governance structures for continuity and sustainability. The promotion of any AL should also give due attention to market development. In some cases, further processing and or packaging of the final products would have to be taken as key components of the promotion efforts.
Forest authorities should include communities in their long-term strategic planning to ensure that introduction of alternative livelihood activities are embraced by forest-dependent communities. This will help improve incomes and ensure forest sustainability.
Role of Research
Research has a key role to play in the sustainability of ALs and several areas may be considered, including the following:
Alternative livelihoods and gender, with a focus on whether particular livelihood activities favour one gender or the other and if that is the case, how to use gender as a useful variable in designing AL programmes;
Market potentials for existing and potential livelihoods;
Risks factors in the implementation of ALs, including market failure, natural disasters and land tenure;
Urban planning legislation and its impacts on ALs;
The role of organisations in supporting ALs in different spatial contexts (urban, rural, peri-urban);
The range of services needed for the successful implementation of AL programmes and how to sustain these services;
Appropriate frameworks that integrate ALs into national development planning instruments, like Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSPs) and Medium Term Expenditure Frameworks (MTEF), among others; and
Monitoring and evaluation of AL Programmes
Above all, institutions engaged in the promotion of ALs should develop suitable frameworks for measuring the impact of ALs on communities, in terms of reducing poverty, increasing social capital, providing options for community members and reducing dependence on the forests. This should be done on a continuous basis to provide the needed baseline to monitor and evaluate ALs.The results could then be used for effective policy making to make ALs more efficient and enduring.
Finally, the quest to introduce alternative livelihoods in the rural areas should be seen in the broader context of overall government development policy and strategy. Particular attention has to be paid to the impacts of other policies in the land, mining, environment, and agricultural sectors so as to reduce conflicts and promote complementarities between these policies.
ALs have a significant role to play in tackling the problems of poverty and conservation in the rural, urban and peri-urban contexts. For this to happen, however, several issues need to be considered. Current experiences indicate that not all ALs may be feasible and/or profitable in given locational and socio-economic and cultural environments. The nature, characteristics and requirements of ALs that can be promoted in specific contexts would therefore have to be identified, promoted, and facilitated in order to ensure they become and remain viable. This calls for measured and targeted interventions and a coordinated effort from the participants in these activities, research institutions, and other stakeholders in the process.
Mechanisms put in place for the promotion of ALs will have to respond to the peculiar contexts of the participants in the processes, the social, political and economic systems that impinge on the individuals involved, and the institutional framework that facilitates alternative livelihoods. The process should be iterative and ensure that good practices and lessons learned are shared with a wider audience in order to upscale interventions. For ALs that have the potential to sustain livelihoods in the future, efforts should be directed at researching into the conditions and prerequisites for their economic viability, including the market potential, start-up requirements, and how they will complement or replace current activities. In all these, the need to ensure that ALs do not negatively affect the environment should be of prime concern to all stakeholders so that the activities can be carried out on a sustainable basis for the benefit of society as a whole.
The Way Forward
The design and implementation of Alternative Livelihoods is a complex process, for which there are no simple solutions. There is the need for a systematic approach to looking at Alternative Livelihoods in order to respond to peculiar needs. Institutions, both private and public in academia and in finance, traditional authorities who own land, non-governmental organisations that have experience and resources in promoting ALs, governments at the various levels, and individuals involved in ALs all have important roles to play. An important way forward is to continue the conversations on how best to promote ALs in the wider context of sustaining natural and built environments and ensuring local economic development.|
|Description: ||Tropenbos International (2005). Alternative Livelihoods and Sustainable Resource Management. Proceedings of a workshop held in Akyawkrom, Ghana, on the 1st of April 2005. Tropenbos International Ghana Workshop Proceedings 4, edited by D. K. B. Inkoom, K. Okae Kissiedu and B. Owusu Jnr. Wageningen, the Netherlands.|
|Appears in Collections:||College of Architecture and Planning|
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