Theme 4: Poverty and Livelihoods
Specific Research Topic: The analysis of changes to livelihood strategies at the household and community levels in the context of rapid change and development in the Mekong Region. This includes the assessment of the nature and causes of vulnerability in livelihoods and the factors that strengthen resilience amongst vulnerable people in both rural and urban settings and including the role that rural-urban links play in creating vulnerability or strengthening resilience. The focus
should be on empirical field level research that analyses the full complexity and drivers of changes in livelihood patterns and in wider rural transformations of the specific communities being studied. This should include the assessment of the implications for household livelihoods of migration, especially to urban areas where households become ‘multi-centred’. The approach should be action-oriented, working with local communities to assess the sustainability and viability of livelihood options and identify how they can take advantage of new opportunities to have greater choice in their livelihood strategies.
The research should assess how livelihoods are changing in response to major development drivers such as urbanization and migration, increasing integration into markets, changes access to transport, electricity, water supplies and other basic services, changes to (and where relevant the deterioration of) the natural resource base and ecosystem services availability, changes to government policies and regulations and other changes that impact at the local level. A key aspect of the research should be to examine how external policies, regulations and development priorities are affecting the character and composition of livelihoods, both positively and negatively. The research should seek to identify policy options that will build resilience, reduce vulnerability, strengthen the sustainability of livelihoods and provide greater and more effective choices in livelihood strategies to, in particular, the poor.
Background: This theme covers a range of frameworks, principles and methodologies covered by the term ‘sustainable livelihoods’ – principally multi-disciplinary, multi-level, people-centred, asset-based approaches to development. This theme will keep Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) framework at the centre of a web of inter-related influences that affect resource management and people’s livelihoods. The SL framework puts livelihood assets that people have access to and use as an entry point into analyzing poverty and livelihoods issues. These primarily include five capitals – natural, human, financial, social and physical. 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; shocks, for example, natural disasters, civil conflict; and seasonality, for example, prices, production, employment opportunities. Access to assets is also influenced by the prevailing social, institutional and political environment, which affects the ways in which people combine and use their assets to meet their
livelihood needs or their livelihood strategies.
Agriculture and allied activities support livelihoods of the majority of rural population in the Mekong Region. In recent years, land- and water-based livelihoods of small and marginal livelihood groups are increasingly becoming unsustainable, since their resource base has not been able to support the family’s food and other essential requirements. As a result, rural households are forced to look at alternative means for supplementing their livelihoods. Given this context, SL is no longer a rural phenomenon. The issues of rural-urban migration and trends in rural non-farm incomes and the expansion of urban-based economic activities have to substantial orientation to new thinking on SL analysis. The nature of poverty-environment interlinkages in rural and urban areas is therefore somewhat different from that which prevailed in the past. Under these circumstances, the policies, processes and practices, especially those associated with the environment and livelihoods, also address different phenomena and issues. Therefore, one major area that this research theme can highlight is the rural-urban differences and trends and their linkages with the broader policy processes and practices.
Under this theme, research grants will be provided to projects that can and will up-to-date, innovative, interdisciplinary, diverse and credible information on the application of livelihood approaches to development, research, policy and practice. Research projects ideally should bring innovative thinking on emerging issues such as how thinking on climate change adaptation and ruralurban migration can increase ecosystem resilience and decrease people’s vulnerability.