Sustainable Livelihoods: A multi-level, multi-dimensional approach

The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach was created in the 1990’s as a response to the conventional development and poverty reduction approaches of the previous years, such as agricultural development through green revolution strategies of the 1950’s, integrated rural development of the 1970’s and structural adjustment programs with market liberalization and privatization in the 1980’s (Bohle, 2009). Those approaches seemed to have too narrow points of view, focusing more on income and productivity issues rather than social aspects like vulnerability, exclusion or equity (Krantz, 2001).

For this, the concept of sustainable livelihoods has been defined as “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 and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base” (Department for International Development, 2001). In this context, the sustainable livelihoods approach has the following core principles that have been summarized briefly by Krantz (2001) and Bohle (2009):

  1. People-centred: people as the core of the development issues, taking into account that external support should focus on supporting and improving their livelihoods.
  2. Responsive and participatory: people as active identifiers of their priorities, strengths and needs, for which proper methodologies should be developed for their participation.
  3. Multi-level: by addressing poverty reduction actions either at micro and macro level.
  4. Conducted in partnership: recognizing all the actors, such as government, communities, organizations and private firms.
  5. Sustainable: trying to find equilibrium between the economic, institutional, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability. Special remarks for this topic are analyzed by the Department of International Development (2001).
  6. Dynamic: understanding that people and their livelihoods are actively changing within the time and taking into account the environment and conditions that shape their behavior.

The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework

The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach takes into account the available livelihood assets such as physical, natural, financial, social and human capital that are used by the poor (from households to broader groups) in the context of vulnerability and interacting with the policies, institutions and processes affecting them in order to reproduce and improve their conditions of life (Bohle, 2007). This approach is explained through a framework, which scheme is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework.


Source: Bohle (2009)

Analyzing all the components of the framework in the reality of the poor is needed to identify the points of intervention for external support, as well as to plan and implement strategies, projects and promote changes in institutional arrangement. For this, each component of the framework has been explained by the Department for International Development (2001) to help the users of this methodology to obtain deeper findings on the livelihoods analysis:

Livelihood assets that people use to obtain livelihood outcomes, understood as peoples’ strengths in each category of assets, or as considered in the framework, levels of each capital: human capital (skills, knowledge, abilities, health, measured as the available labour in a household), social capital (trust, and reciprocity relationships, networking, membership to grassroots organizations or cooperatives that enhance the use of other assets), natural capital (land, forests, water, biodiversity, other natural resources used by the poor in the form of goods or services), physical capital (infrastructure, tools, machinery, services such as water and energy supply, available for the poor’s production and survival) and financial capital (available stocks and inflows of money for consumption and production). The different categories of capital can be related between them, reinforcing the “people-centred” principle.

The Vulnerability context defined as the environment in which the poor develop their livelihoods. People are influenced by the effect of shocks (events destroying or reducing the availability of assets), trends (more predictable, such as economic or technological trends affecting the use of assets and the results of livelihood strategies) and seasonal shifts (of prices, production, food availability, employment).

Policies, Institutions, Processes (Transforming structures and processes) that affect and model livelihoods and determine the terms of exchange and access to different types of capital, as well as affect the returns to the peoples’ strategies. Structures (as public, private sector, NGOs) and processes (laws, governance systems, policies from different levels of government, NGOs and from international bodies, culture and power relations) can be found at multiple levels, interacting between them and with the poor, having an impact on the shape of the livelihood strategies.

Livelihood strategies consisting on the diversity of choices, opportunities that are later transformed into decisions and activities done to satisfy their needs and attain their livelihoods goals in a dynamic process in which mobility of the resources and the people is characteristic. The aim of interventions and projects using the sustainable livelihoods approach should focus on the increase of choices for a wider scope of livelihoods strategies and consequently a higher ability to cope with the shocks, trends and seasonality.

Livelihood outcomes defined as the “achievements or outputs of livelihood strategies” (Department for International Development, 2001). Livelihood outcomes may be categorized as more income (increase in net returns and savings to achieve economic sustainability), increased wellbeing (self-esteem, social inclusion, health, security, access to services), reduced vulnerability (increased ability to cope with social, political, climatic, economic changes), improved food security (at all the dimensions of the concept) and more sustainable use of natural resource base (ensuring the availability of the natural resources along the time).



Zero km food (0 km food) is a concept which few years ago first appeared in Italy. It denotes the food produced, sold and eaten locally – the food which travelled zero kilometers. Mainly it refers to non-industrial fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat, honey etc, which does not go trough global trade chains, therefore it does not have big price margins and quality lose during long storage in international supermarkets. It also has an important ecological aspect which can not be overseen – since there is no transport involved (we buy from the shop on the corner), the environment does not suffer from direct and indirect pollution.


I also incountered with the zero km food concept in Italy myself, especially in the Veneto region where I used to study. This region is probably the most famous region when it comes to food and beverages (prosecco, pinot grigo, tiramisu, bigoli pasta, aperol spritz all come from here). All this f&b are quite dominant in their supermarkets, on the markets and in restaurants, while imported f&b exist in smaller numbers. Partly, they owe it to competitive Italian economy, since prices of domestic f&b products are lower comparing to foreign competition. On the other hand, the consciousness of the Italians is very high when it comes to supporting the local trade and local economy. That is what it does not come as a surprise that this concept comes from here.

Why is this concept relevant for sustainable development? For several reasons! First, it is highly connected to food sovereignty – the right of people to define their own food systems. Both countries and local communities should have the right and possibilities to grow their own food, and decrease the dependence on global food players. Secondly, zero km food supports the rare and unique food species which should be kept and not lost. The example is more than 100 species of potatoes in Ecuador which continue to exist and support eco-diversity in that country.


Next, zero km food is important from the perspective of tourism and nation branding. Each country has its own traditional food, more or less famous, depending on the country. These traditions should be kept, both for the nation pride, identity and nation brands, but also for tourism. People travel to various places, and their aim is to taste local food produced locally which can not be found somewhere else. In tourism zero km food has a huge role.

The successful practice which Italy introduced can be seen in many other places. The country I come from, Serbia still remains quite comfortable with zero km food, where customers still buy in local markets giving the push to local foods. We should not stop doing this. Our food, our tradition, our independence.

Please use #zerokmfood hashtah when sharing this text. Thank you!

Watering lettuce – Less is more!

Watering lettuce with a quarter less water during growth is not only cost-effective and environmentally favorable, but also provides a longer shelf life of harvested lettuce. In addition, less watering results in reduced browning of cut lettuce leaves and the lettuce has a longer fresh look on your table. However, most importantly is that the microbiological quality of lettuce is maintained and even improved.


These are just some of the results of the Veg-i-Trade, which investigates climate change on food security . In these times of crisis, any reduction in costs is important to the vitality of agriculture and horticulture. In addition, the rational use of water is very important in the development of sustainable agriculture and helps to reduce water shortages due to climate change. It should be borne in mind that as much as 70 percent of water consumption occurs in the context of agriculture.


In addition to the amount of water, It is important that the water is microbiologically and chemically correct. There are numerous poisonings with fruits and vegetables watered and sprayed with water that is chemically inadequate. ” An apple a day keeps the doctor away”  could be easily turned into its exact opposite when eating apples sprayed with water that contains fecal microorganisms or pesticide residues. Tests have shown that the washing of apples, for example with warm water and detergent is needed to remove residues – primarily chemical contaminants. For those sensitive consumers, it’s even better ( despite the loss of important nutrients ) that the apple is peeled .


Veg-i-Trade is a European consortium of 23 partners from ten countries, which examines the impact of climate change and globalization on safety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The project is coordinated by the University of Ghent. One of the participants is the Departement of Food safety and Quality management from the Faculty of Agriculture in Belgrade

A tourism bottom-up?

From around 1980 tourism changed its traditional definition and started to integrate new concepts. Policymakers, businessmen, communities and other social actors began to discuss the real role of tourism and its effects on the host communities and on the environment.


In the last three decades, the conception of tourism has included new dimensions about social, economic and environmental issues. Now the tourist industry is looking for non-mass activities involving the host communities and subsequent poverty alleviation.To describe this situation, the academic field has developed some approach related to the participation of communities in tourism which is called Community- based tourism (CBT).

CBT is seen as a participatory gender-balanced approach to planning and management which seeks to motivate villagers to conserve their natural and cultural heritage by generating awareness about the environment, and teaching people how to reduce the negative impacts of tourism while improving the tourism service standards that thereby justify greater and more widely available revenues 1.


In non-academic sectors, CBT is defined as a tool against poverty. Indigenous people of the world share a common experience of marginalization and discrimination. The non-recognition of their lands, of their territories and of their rights to enjoy access to their resources has reduced the possibility for these people to engage in traditional activities. Lack of access to credit, marketing resources and other means threaten their ways of life. In this context, CBT can be a socio-economic activity which can give them a sustainable living and help them preserve their land and culture 2.


CBT cannot be associated with any particular touristic product, despite its close relation with ecotourism. The connection of this activity with local development should be managed with caution because not all projects under this label bring positive results to the community. In some cases CBT projects are created by international or external organizations that could respond to a different logic of development, characterized by a gap between what the community needs and what the organizations offer. For that reason CBT projects should be a local proposal in which communities build their own objectives. It is then possible to say that CBT is a bottom-up process because it requires the participation of communities.


1. Brewer W (2000) Community-based Tourism for Conservation and Women’s Development. From Tourism and Development in Mountain regions.

2. OIT-ILO. (2001). Turismo Sostenible Estado, comunidad  y empresa frente al mercado – El caso Ecuador, Lima, 140, p. p. 23-33

Food Security: Challenges, Prospects and Implications

How to reach Food Security? The answer to this question is not easy, and depends on the organizations, companies, institutions and civil society involved and advocating for change. The way of approaching to the Food Security concept can be wide different from one point of view to another, and achieving a world with sustainable and environmentally friendly farming systems, accessible and fair markets for producers and consumers, as well as overcoming hunger and malnutrition, is as complex, dynamic and multidimensional as the poverty issue all around the world.

Additionally, when we look at the needs of each actor involved in food production, commercialization and consumption, a deeper complexity can be observed:

  • While looking for high yields crops, reduced use of land and water and optimization of profits.
  • When trying to obtain livelihoods improvement, increasing income, sustainable production, low price inputs, better access to stable markets, short supply chains, reduced risk, fair output prices and increasing resilience.
  • When working on well-developed and regulated markets, reduced inequity, respected laws and institutional arrangements and frameworks.
  • While trying to establish low and stable prices, constant access and availability of safe foods, to satisfy consumers’ needs.

Each one of these issues is difficult to be satisfied and the way to achieve them can influence the others. For example, looking for profit maximization and productivity increase can lead to unfair conditions for the farmers who do not have enough access to the main assets like land, water and capital. Changes in prices of inputs like agro-chemicals affect the already volatile food market worldwide. The changing climate increases risk and losses of farmers, leading to low-risk but less productive decisions and deepens hunger in areas attacked by famine. Resources become scarcer and maintaining soil fertility and water availability is a matter of concern for more than one, and can be costly, difficult and technologically challenging.


Short supply chains and locally produced food may be successful on places with enough assets to produce and transport food for small populations, but this is not feasible again in places with water scarcity, low productivity or lack of roads between farms and markets, and sometimes fair output prices are expensive for consumers. Then, consumers cannot have enough access to food if they just trust on short supply chains, so that it is necessary to develop complex supply chains, what increases the cost of food and make it vulnerable to waste, speculation and price crisis. As a consequence of this complexity, public institutions try to regulate markets, being this a difficult task because of pressure from multilateral organizations, large companies or other actors that claim for free and non-regulated markets.

Hence, relationships between actors and the contradictions generated by these relationships make the landscape of Food Security issue even more complex, creating conflict, interdependency, opportunism, challenge and overlapping discourses between the actors of the system.

With this complex landscape, some questions are identified, maybe obvious, but very difficult to answer if seen just from one single point of view:

  • How can the world obtain sustainable agricultural production, consumption and growth?
  • How can we improve the access for assets like water and land in countries with poor soil, droughts risk and low yield seeds, and without generating more pressure on environmental assets use, and reducing the ecological footprint of agricultural activities?
  • How can we empower smallholders in order to create resilience within the peoples? And how can we improve rural areas’ livelihoods to overcome poverty and make them become self-sufficient, without generating more dependency on external agents?
  • How to achieve food security worldwide if there is lack of commitment from actors and institutions, or if they fail to build a common agenda that consider all the voices, in terms of production, pollution, human development and hunger?

These questions cannot be answered successfully if they are addressed with just the current economical and productive model. A change in the paradigms of food production, processing, distribution and commerce is needed in order to achieve Food Security worldwide. Thus, the statement that some advocates have released, “Business as usual are not possible anymore”, makes sense and encourages looking for rational and adequate arrangements between social, environmental, economic and productive issues, and balanced relationships between the actors of food production, distribution, commerce and consumption. The search of solutions implies the formulation and recognition of scales and strategies on the local, national and regional levels, for which it is necessary to understand that in a world of specific local conditions, not a standard solution can be applied.


In this way, it is necessary to develop new food systems in which solving the problem of hunger is the main issue. For this, an institutional arrangement must be proposed, where the public and the private sectors integrate smallholders and consumers concerns and points of view into the agenda, with an active participation of small scale farmers and consumers’ organizations, as well as representatives of rural and urban areas coming from the “third sector”. Participation of all the actors in the arena of developing a food secure world does not involve only advocating from a point of view, but taking real actions at all levels, something that is forgotten sometimes. Understanding the roles, rights and duties of each actor in the food supply chain is a key for reaching Food Security, with environmental sustainability and poverty relief, getting well-established governance structures. This implies changes in relations of power and the acknowledgement of constituencies and stakeholders along the extended food supply chain.

Hence, Food Security becomes an issue that can be fulfilled only if there is a serious and sustained commitment of governments, companies, farmers and consumers for overcoming hunger and poverty. For this, it is necessary to neglect personal and corporate interests and understand that global Food Security is one of the most important issues in this changing, dynamic, endless world-making process.


New approaches for solving the depletion of global resources

With 7 billions people living on the planet and 230 thousands born everyday, it is estimated that by 2050 the global population will reach at least 9 billions. The more concerning, however, is that it is most likely that food consumption will double by 2050, taking into account the constant increase in food consumption per capita. While some proposals for the solution of increasing food consumption include finding new food resources such as eating insects, algae and seaweed; the solution might be in just releasing the existing food resources from an inefficient chain in which they have been trapped.

green apple with world map, isolated with clipping path

In order to produce food, the large amounts of arable land, water and energy are required. The agriculture’s environmental footprint is everything but negligible and it is estimated that 51% of all green house gas emissions is caused only by raising livestock, while only 13% is caused by transportation. Specialists say that if the planet temperature rises by only 2oC, which means that 565Gt of green house gas emission is a maximum load, we will experience severe climate changes: flooding, storms, volcanoes. With livestock producing 32Gt per year, this number is going to be exceeded by 2030 – without any use of fossil fuels.


If we only consider meat production, annually 70 billions animals are being raised for food consumption, and with new trends of adding more proteins to everyday diet, it is likely that meat consumption will double by 2050. For every kg of meat, 7-10 kg of grain feed is required. By year 2050 it would mean investing more resources that water can supply.

Nowadays a lot of research is done in order to get perfect taste and texture of meat from protein rich plant resources. Some of these products are already available on the market. By our choice to eat this “more environment friendly foods” we are not only protecting our planet, we are also solving the problems of overconsumption of fat and cholesterol. By using available technologies food specialists can deliver tasty meat alternatives, with same nutritional value of meat at a lower cost- not only for our pockets, but also for our planet.


Apart from proteins, carbohydrates are the most important dietary component, providing 50-60% of calories to everyday diet, with starch providing half of it. Many of starch rich crops, such as corn, are nowadays being used for production of biofuels and renewable materials. The growth of population would not only mean the increase in food consumption, but also in the energy consumption, and substantially the demand for starch-rich crops will grow. The solution could be the use of renewable nonfood resources, such as agricultural and forest residues to obtain starch by enzymatic transformation of cellulose. This starch can be used for further production of biofuels, as well as for food processing. The research in this area is still to be implemented on a large-scale, but first results promise the decrease of the agriculture’s impact on the environment.



Biomass As a Renewable Energy Source


Biomass, as a renewable energy source, is the organic matter of vegetable or animal origin and is used in combustion processes or converted in systems for the production of heat or electricity related energy (Dodic et al., 2012). In other words, according to the definition of the EU, Directive 2003/30/EC, biomass is biodegradable fraction of products, wastes and residues from agriculture (including plant and animal substances), forestry and the wood processing industries as well as the biodegradable fraction of municipal and industrial wastes which is permitted for use in energetics, in accordance with relevant regulations for the environment protection. In short, any organic matter sources can be considered as biomass such as agricultural and forestry wastes, aquatic plants, animal waste and garbage, and the availability of these sources varies depending on the region, climate, ground type, geography, population density, productive activities, etc. (Rosua & Pasadas, 2012).

Biomass may have different origins. Biomass of plant, for example, is a product of photosynthesis in plant organisms; while biomass of animal origin is produced as a product – the rest is in the process of feeding of animals. Biomass is consumed and renewed continuously, in the cycle of circulation of material and energy in the nature. Man, with his activities, increases the amount of biomass circulating in the environment (Dodic et al., 2012).


Biomass has traditionally been an important source of energy and is particularly attractive nowadays owing to its wide distribution, low negative environmental impact and sustainable utilization (Xingang et al., 2012). Hence, it is regarded as one of the major energy sources today, contributing approximately 14% of the annual energy consumption of the world in comparison to 12% from coal and 15% from gases (Seneca, 2007).

The growing interest towards biomass all over the world in recent years can also be explained through its availability of feed stocks including agricultural and forestry residues and wastes (Shen et al, 2009).