top of page

Conservation Livelihood: A Concept of Integrating Nature Conservation and Livelihood

By Jayanta Kumar Sarma

“Conservation is a state of harmony between man and land”

– Aldo Leopold

1. Prelude

Nature conservation on principle pleads for protecting and nurturing natural resources, associated ecosystems and biodiversity with its value of physical quantity and parameters. On the other hand livelihood means making a living, it covers fulfilment of basic necessities of life; which incorporates security of food, shelter and clothing along with health and education.  The growing pressure of population on natural resources, emerging environmental degradation, environmental and manmade externalities pose threats to the livelihood of the larger section of the ‘Eco-system People’ (1) of the globe.

Therefore, along with the thought of Sustainable Development, concept of Sustainable Livelihood appeared. To define the concept of sustainable livelihood Chambers and Conway (1992) stated that “a livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets 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.” This framework proposed the state of the natural, physical, human, social and financial assets and its capabilities are the fundamentals of sustaining livelihood in present and future context.

However, livelihood security and economic wellbeing also directly affected forestland use practices and biodiversity conservation (Burner et al, 2001; Geist and Lambin, 2002). Particularly,  the situation of livelihood of people living in the fringe villages of the Protected Areas having different dimension of stress and shocks which always pose threat to sustain livelihood. Livelihood and food security of fringe villagers of protected area is a question of ponder (Siebert S.F., Belsky J.M., 2002). There is a growing debate on livelihood security and conservation of wildlife, question arises about environmental goals of protected areas (PA) compatible with poverty alleviation goals, particularly in the context of developing countries (Adams et al., 2004). On the other hand there is a widespread focuses on conservation policy to avoid destabilization of way of life of the people, other way, better to contribute for elevation of human means for living through poverty alleviation (CBD, 2008). Therefore alternative paradigm of integrated conservation and development projects was evolved with focuses on establishing linkage between conservation and livelihood objectives (Salafsky Nick and Wollengberg Eva, 2000; Clements Tom, SuonSeng, 2014). In this context a new approach of ‘Conservation Livelihood’ is developed, which is a synthesis of conservation and management of natural assets including wildlife with sustainable development ensuring means of leaving to the people.

2. Conservation Livelihood: Concept and Modalities

Conservation livelihood is an approach to integrate conservation and livelihood together, with a perspectives of ‘growth within’ (2) through the process of circular economy (3) focusing on valuing the invisible (4), connecting nature, culture and development with an agenda of empowering community, skilling and enforcing eco-cultural ethos and ethics.

2.1. Approach

To achieve this perspectives, Conservation Livelihood strategies relies on three important approaches, viz. Conservation Education, Capacity Building and Courses of Livelihood Interventions.

2.1.1. Conservation Education is primarily focuses on developing a new outlook among the community towards the natural assets in and around the area of their habitation to find out ways to mobilizing self-reliance without rescinding strength of the ecological processes through eco-cultural ethos and ethics. The foundation of this approach is based on exploring – i) ecological services available to the community from natural assets which are there within their area of habitation and neighbouring PA/forest ; ii) assessing people’s perception towards nature and wildlife, aspiration they have for livelihood and development; and iii)  identification and understanding about eco-ethics in the cultural milieu of the community. All these need to be transformed to logical framework for communication to the targeted community; specifically for working population, potential working population, women, youth and children through separate module and communication material in local languages. Cultural media can be used as one of the vehicle for communication in a holistic manner. Underlying objectives of this approach is to developing eco-literacy among the communities along with revival of culturally defined eco-ethics and motivating the community for alternative thinking, exploring ways to identify potential sources for sustaining their means of living based on sustainable production and consumption principles.

2.1.2. Capacity Building emphasise on augmenting information, knowledge and skill for empowerment, economic self-reliance of the respective community/communities of the area within a framework of ecosystem approach. Here developing the capacity of the community for analysis of different situation and appropriate decision-making based on defined eco-ethics is one of the primary concerns. In relation to this, it is necessary to assess their desired eco-system based approaches for livelihood activities. Based on their choices, different livelihood based-capacity building programmes are designed and implemented. Here entire cycle is design with component of training, exposure and hands on trial. In this phase, apart from production processes, ecologically sensitive aspects of production systems are also focused.

2.1.3. Courses of livelihood interventions is a processes started after formal capacity building programme; where primary focus is on technical guidance and facilitation to the respective target groups against a particular livelihood trade.

Entire approach is accentuate the strategies and action to facilitate the community to participate and contribute for a means of living through eco-system based methods of production, processing, distribution and consumption systems. Therefore, conservation livelihood is a process of learning and leading life, where cycle of process varies with spatial and temporal context. The role of facilitator to provide companion with the community to revival of their strength of collectiveness fostering eco-system based economic activities and developing a new structure of inclusiveness to achieve the target of growth within.

2.2. Core value and norms

Entire approach need to follow the principle of participation, inclusiveness and community ownership in planning, implementation and monitoring in an incessant process of learning, capacity-building and self-actualization. There is a focus on community participation in each phases of works. Therefore, following conditions are mandatory to follows.

  • Livelihood activity to be designed through participatory consultation processes with the community and incorporating their views, needs and choices. In the case of protected area, there is a need to follow the framework of access restriction as per legal provision of the country.

  • Incorporating livelihood activities which have parity with local ecological settings and cultural systems following eco-system approach of development.

  • Empowering community on alternative livelihood, based on the assets available with them and making an effort to change the outlook of the people about conservation.

  • Follow the principle of organic farming in case agricultural and allied production system.

  • Only to promote local seeds and endemic species in agriculture, agro-forestry and plantation practices.

  • Need to connect individual in the families to group and area base collectives.

  • Consider fair trade principles (6) in marketing of community product.

2.3. Transection processes

The techniques of transaction targeted to empowering and connecting individual in family to larger collectives, for better collective approaches for self-actualization. Therefore, it follows the path of ‘family centric model’ where primary focus is on ‘empowering marginalised section of the community, who depends on sensitive natural assets’ like protected areas/forest for their means of living.  Here importance is given to involved working and potential working population of the respective families in to the process. Every individual working or potential working population will opt for a particular means of livelihood as per their own choice. After that, as per livelihood means decided by the individual, they were trained and skills are augmented, followed by extension of support and facilitation services to start their own initiatives. In due course of time when individuals gain confidence and perfection in their livelihood initiatives, individuals are encouraged to form their trade wise group at village level for their own strategic management, e.g., marketing of their product and assessing further scope for development in the trade, etc. Such groups of different livelihood trades are further federated as collectives at village and village cluster level in consequent phases. Such groups and collectives are trained and empowered in the process so that they can manage the initiatives and continue the process after withdrawal of facilitation process too.

In the process, the entire transection process needs to diminish the people’s dependency on material of protected area/forest for their livelihood; create self-reliance of the people with their own systems and increases generosity of the people to natural and wildlife in the protected area/forest to strengthen conservation practices. Such approach also need to develop the base of the natural assets within the village systems.

3.0. Additional consideration

As a part of holistic approach it requires to consider the following aspects in the processes of design and implementation of the initiatives under the umbrella of conservation livelihood.

3.1. Traditional Knowledge System (TKS) of the local communities in natural resource management needs to be considered for designing the interventional target and approaches as procedure for reviving common knowledge of the people;

3.2. Eco-cultural ethos and ethics of the community need to consider  for  designing  basic focuses of conservation approach and ethical framework to be followed in the intervention process.

3.3. Alternative appropriate technology essentially need to consider as the one of the technological approach in the interventional initiatives. Instead of introducing market-driven technology, it is better to develop alternative appropriate technology at local context; based on the participatory approach of technology design, development and implementation.

3.4. Value addition chain development is also important aspects of consideration in the process of livelihood initiatives, where priority is to go for semi processing and value addition of product gathered from agriculture, agro-forestry, handloom, and handicraft,etc., through proper market linkage.

3.5. Re-use-recycling principle need to be considered in production system; means, waste produced in certain phase of production need to link to another production chain where it will be used as resource.

3.6. Fair trade of community product is an important aspects need to be consider in the packages of practice. For this purpose ethical norms to be followed are eco-system approach-based organic production system in circular economic principles; where surplus will be strategically need to link to market channel to reach to responsible consumers, who not only consume the product and services but also pay to the community in terms of financial and intellectual contribution. Therefore, financial return from market not only process to establish but there is need to establish an appropriate feedback system so that consumer and producer can interact.

3.7. Knowledge partnership is another asset to be considered in the initiatives of conservation livelihood; because entire approach is cross disciplinary in nature, so partnership between different institutions/groups/individuals with different subject of expertise helps in research, strategic planning and actual execution of the work.

4. Final annotation

Conservation livelihood is an evolving concept implored for developing strategic ways to integrate conservation of nature and livelihood from the stand point of eco-system approach (5) of development. Therefore, care to eco-system structure and functions its linkages to environmental, human and social processes are most essential in designing the process of interventions. It must incorporate the norms equality and equity into its fold of design and implementation. However, strategic planning and execution may change space to space with variation ecological and human-cultural context.

It is in the process of experimental learning by many development agencies, particularly with the initiatives of CSO, NGOs.  Aaranyak working in North Eastern part of India is also started experimental work in Manas Landscape under Manas Tiger Conservation Project and having a plan to start another trial in Kaziranga –Karbi Anglong Landscape. Learning of this trial will help in making broader strategies in North East India Context. 


  1. People who fundamentally depends on ecosystem of their surroundings to meet their basic necessities of life and also for cultural practices.

  2. Growth within represent state of economic situation where it gains capacity to produce more product and services in a said period of time based on the resources available within the spatial context with own initiatives in inclusive principle without disturbing the ecosystem functions .

  3. Circular economic approach focuses on out placing concept of waste from the production system, focuses to incorporate waste in to resource inputs in a value chain. Major principle follows in the model are – design to out waste and pollution, keep product and material in use, regenerate natural system.

  4. It is an approach to focus on minor and neglected one, and strategically incorporate them into the development process, production and service system; e.g. in case human resources marginal farmer, women, specially able persons,etc; in case of natural resources – weeds, insects, waste, etc.

  5. The ecosystem approach, defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a strategy for integrating management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.; retrieved on 06.01.2018

  6. Fair trade is an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency and respects that seeks to create greater equity in trading systems. It follows the principle of  a) providing opportunity for disadvantage producer, b) transparency and accountability, c) fair trade practices, d) fair payment, e) no child labour , no forced labour, f) no discrimination, gender equity, g) good working conditions, h) capacity building, i) promote fair trade, and  j) respect for environment.; retrieved on 18.12.17


Adams, W. M., Aveling, R., Brockington, D., Dickson, B., Elliott, J., Hutton, J., et al. (2004). Biodiversity conservation and the eradication of poverty. Science, 306, 1146–1149.

Bruner A, Gullison R, Rice R, et al ( 2001) “ Effectiveness of Parks in protecting tropical biodiversity”, Science: 291, p. 125-128.

CBD. (2008). Ninth conference of the parties to the convention on biological diversity, decision IX/18, Bonn. Convention on Biological Diversity. ;; retrieved on 06.01.2018

CHAMBERS, Robert and CONWAY, Gordon R. (1992): Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st Century, Institute of Development Studies Discussion Papers, 296. Cambridge.

Clements Tom , SuonSeng , 2014, “Impacts of Protected Areas on Local Livelihoods in Cambodia” World Development Vol. 64, pp. S125–S134, 2014.

Geist H and Lambin E (2002), “Proximate causes and underlying driving forces of tropical deforestation” Bio-Science: 52, p. 143-150.

Salafsky Nick and Wollengberg Eva, 2000, “Linking Livelihoods and Conservation: A Conceptual Framework and Scale for Assessing the Integration of Human Needs and Biodiversity’ World Development Vol. 28, No. 8, pp. 1421±1438, 2000.

Siebert S.F., Belsky J.M. (2002) “Livelihood security and protected area management” International Journal of Wilderness, Vol. 8, No.3, p. 38-42.

* Article republished from Biolink August 2018 issue.

About the Author:

Jayanta Kumar Sarma

The author is a Freelance Consultant of Environment and Development and presently associated with Aaranyak in its Manas Tiger Conservation Project as a consultant.

912 views0 comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page