Sustainable livelihood approaches and soil erosion risks: Who is to judge?
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to contribute to debates about environmental policy in developing countries by examining how far sustainable livelihoods approaches (SLAs) to development may allow an alternative and less universalistic approach to environmental changes such as soil erosion. Design/methodology/approach – The paper provides an overview of debates about environmental narratives and SLAs. There are tensions in both debates, about how far local institutions represent adaptations to predefined environmental risks, or instead enable a redefinition of risks according to the experience of poor people. In addition, there is a tension in how far SLAs should be seen as a fixed institutional design, or as a framework for organizing ideas and concerns about development. The paper presents research on soil erosion in Thailand as a case study of how SLAs can redefine risks from erosion for poor people. Findings – SLAs provide a more contextual analysis of how environmental changes such as soil erosion represent risk to different land users, and hence SLAs can make environmental interventions more relevant for reducing vulnerability. But this approach can only succeed if intervener agencies are willing to consider challenging pre-existing environmental narratives in order to empower local livelihoods. Originality/value – The paper adds to existing research on SLAs by exploring the implications of SLAs for redefining environmental assumptions. The paper forms part of work aiming to make debates about the politics of environmental knowledge and science more practically relevant within development policy.
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