Sustainable livelihoods and pro-poor market development

Sustainable livelihoods and pro-poor market development

What can sustainable livelihoods approaches and pro-poor market approaches learn from each other?

The third Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) seminar was held at the University of Bath, in the UK, in July 2009. Hosted by the Livelihoods Network, the seminar series discusses the continued relevance of sustainable livelihoods approaches in development today This Sustainable livelihoods highlights presents discussions from this third seminar and examines the relationships between sustainable livelihoods approaches and newer approaches such as pro-poor market (PPM) development, which includes ‘making markets work for the poor’ and value chain approaches.

Similarities and complementarities between SL and PPM include:

  • They are both multidisciplinary, in that they draw on political economy, social analysis and economics to generate insights into the way these influences affect the livelihood processes and outcomes.
  • An emphasis on sustainability is critical for both approaches, although pro-poor market approaches prioritise the economic and financial aspects more than the environmental and social. 
  •  Both approaches refer to institutions, in themselves complex. The greater focus on understanding market institutions of PPM approaches, has unpacked the ‘policies institutions and processes’ box contained in the SL framework that often went unexamined.

Differences between them include issues of scale and empowerment: PPMs are seeking to realise impact at a scale that SL approaches have failed to achieve. They seek to influence whole market systems to ensure benefits for poor people.

Specific interventions are needed to build people’s confidence and self-esteem and encourage them to engage in market-based livelihood activities. Social differences clearly create barriers: better understanding is needed of how systems of exclusion operate and how pro-poor market approaches can overcome them.

The articles in this highlights explore efforts to overcome these constraints. They include:

  • steps towards sustaining a constructive dialogue between practitioners of sustainable livelihoods and pro-poor market approaches 
  • fostering dynamic livelihood development, focusing on ‘hanging in’ (protecting livelihoods), stepping up (improving livelihoods) and stepping out (changing livelihood activities and structures) 
  • the challenge of integrating small-scale agricultural producers into markets in the face of climate change 
  • addressing the potential marginalisation of small producers as a result of the ‘regovernance’ of national agri-food markets by the private sector 
  • improving knowledge and information services to farmers to address underlying problems of low productivity 
  • encouraging the development of ‘0pro-poor’ policies, value chains and small and medium enterprises.