What may constitute a successful livelihood?
Profitability is often considered to be the main indicator of a successful livelihood but in the Pacific a number of other factors may be just as important to communities such as the ability to fulfil cultural obligations for example. We propose that a “successful” livelihood is one that can continue into the future, coping with, and adapting to, changes and without losing the things that make the livelihood possible.
If we have rich natural resources why do we not have lots of money?
The availability of natural resources is one asset or strength that communities may have. This asset if wisely managed may at least provide food for present and future generations but this will depend on other assets that the community may have or have access to. Generating cash from natural resources sustainably will depend on these other assets which include skills, culture, access to markets, transport, finance for start-up and infrastructure. The condition of these assets needs to be taken into account.
Secure food supply may be the first and priority livelihood option
Experience to date suggests that support for the development of sustainable livelihoods, particularly those that generate cash income, faces considerable challenges. For the majority of communities such support may not be available or effective for a considerable time to come. However, it appears that using the strengths of community organization and traditional knowledge it is possible for communities to improve and secure their future livelihoods by improving their natural resource management (report). Some people even warn that “in many cases, livelihood diversification could even be a distraction that deters communities from gaining an awareness of the need for, and benefits of, more effective forms of marine resource management” (report)
Communities, families and leadership
Sometimes we assume that a livelihood project has to be community-wide. The strength of the relationship between community members is an important aspect of village life and it is important to count on the support of communities and in particular the leaders. However, different projects and different places may best suit different approaches and what may work community-wide in one place may be best handled at the family level or by an association somewhere else. It seems that the most appropriate group to work on the livelihood should be discussed at the outset ensuring that community and leaders are supportive.
Markets and transport
The availability of markets for produce and means of transport are very important factors and lack of these will often lead to failure. Partnering with businesses is a solution for some and working through “honest brokers”, organizations or government to ensure access to stable markets is also a common solution.
Support from government can be of various types including favorable legislation, training, technical advice as well as market access and information, grants, loans and subsidies. Government support is an important success factor for livelihood ventures but many of our countries’ governments do not yet have adequate resources or means to support many communities. Developing the capacity of government to support and integrate community livelihoods through technical advice, legislation, training and finance schemes is a vital task.
One of the scarcest resources in the village is often information such as better ways to produce certain crops, market availability and prices, laws and quality regulations and so on. This information is frequently available in the capital or in organizations but not readily available to the communities. Improving communications and ensuring that information reaches those who need it is an important challenge.
“Livelihoods” are not just about cash…
An important first step when discussing community livelihoods is for people to be very clear about their needs. Too often it is assumed that cash may solve all problems and too often we find that not only is it hard to generate cash but that it is not the answer. We mentioned above that securing food production may be important but also issues relating to health, water supply and culture may be priorities. In this report we suggest that communities may wish to consider working to improve livelihoods under at least 3 categories:
• Improve or secure food production and other necessities such as water supply, wild harvest, cultivation or land management
• Reduce how much we are affected by natural disasters, seasonal or long term changes or changing market prices
• Generate cash or, just as important, looking at ways to reduce expenses for example through reducing excess use of bought products or making local substitutes.
Culture and traditions
A characteristic of the South Pacific of particular importance to not just sustainable livelihoods but other work is that of culture. Cultural traditions and norms, such as reciprocity and community obligations, form an integral part of everyday life for most people. These traditions have been considered constraints and obstacles to effective livelihood diversification by some; however, they constitute some of the factors favoring community resilience in the face of shocks and climate change. Furthermore, they also have the potential to enhance livelihood opportunities and to positively support small-scale enterprise development if adopted into project development appropriately. Some of the cultural characteristics of particular relevance include:
• Cultural obligations, such as kerekere (sharing of one’s goods)
• Importance of kinship and family ties
• ‘Planning ahead’ is not necessarily a traditional practice
• Favoring communal decision-making over individual responsibility
• Hierarchy and the importance of strong leadership
• Customary ownership of natural resources including marine areas