Building sustainable livelihoods equitably

Bouchra Chakroune
August 3, 2016

The story of the landless plight of Agustina Tarimo, living in a remote village in Tanzania, told by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an article published last week is sadly not an unfamiliar one.

The harsh reality faced by poor women struggling to build sustainable livelihoods in the face of ingrained cultural practices and complex laws, which favour men and hinder access to resources is an issue the ESPA programme has been highlighting in its work.

ESPA’s research is showing that women have access to and influence over ecosystem services in a ways that differ significantly from that of men. ESPA research has shown that women and men benefit from different baskets of ecosystem services, with men often focused on provisioning services or activities likely to generate income, and women having more emphasis on meeting the needs of households for food, water, and energy.

Research highlighted by the ASSETS project shows that in Ucayali, Peru, where commercial cocoa and palm oil farming is seen as important livelihood strategy, men tend to be involved in all activities related to cocoa production, while women only participate in the harvesting phase. The project has also shown that temporal migration is seen by the communities as an important livelihood strategy to raise extra income. Yet, preliminary results show that men tend to temporally migrate far more frequently than women. The project shows that the division of gender roles is tied up with both cultural issues as well as socio-economic considerations.

There are some examples in ESPA research of women obtaining income from ecosystem services, such as from the cultivation of Jatropha but these are sometimes seen as secondary activities of limited value within a community. Similar conclusions are raised by the ESPA project, P-MOWTICK on fisheries in Kenya which highlighted that women fish vendors tend to only have access to lower-grade small fish and therefore have much lower average incomes than male vendors. The project has shown that while a reduction in fishing effort would lead to better ecological impacts, and more profitable fishing from larger fish, women, who rely on the smaller fish will lose out.

ESPA research has demonstrated the importance of using disaggregated measures and conceptualisation of the links between ecosystem services and poverty alleviation. It has shown that it is critical to take into account equity and the differentiated access to resources that women and men have when designing development interventions. Gender equity has been raised as a key issue relating, for example, to the design of effective schemes for payments for ecosystem services. Furthermore, P-MOWTICK has shown equity as well as an understanding of the complex trade-offs that emerge in social-ecological systems need to be taken into account in management and decision-making at all levels. Through cutting-edge research, the ESPA programme is providing the evidence and tools to enable policy and decision-makers to implement interventions that support a nuanced and enhanced understanding of the equity issues at stake, to advance gender equity and the sustainable livelihoods of poor women as well as men.


Fish market image courtesy of Jacob Owiti