|Date||2001 - 2002||Location||Sri Lanka, India and Mozambique
Poverty and Reefs
Coral reefs are often valued as places of beauty that attract tourists and marine biologists, and provide many forms of fish for developed world aquaria or restaurants. Economic estimates of this value to wider society have been generated to inform decisions about reef-use and interventions. However, the vast majority of reefs in developing countries provide the foundation of the livelihoods of the coastal poor and a key-stone resource or vital safety net for many vulnerable coastal people whose livelihoods are land-based. Benefit flows to these poor and vulnerable people may not score high from an economic perspective but in livelihood outcome terms they are vital.
They provide seasonally stable sources of food, building materials, a medium of exchange, medicines and a source of income and status. It is the reef that protects the coastal villages from storms and wave action and the inner lagoons provide a reserve of food in all weather conditions. This contribution to household food security is particularly important to female heads of households and other very vulnerable groups.
The diversity of products provide opportunities for many with different skills to become engaged and to access different markets, many of which are associated with increasingly important export markets. The structural and species diversity of the reef favours small-scale production and makes large-scale exploitation of the reef difficult and so opportunities for small-scale producers are preserved. The common pool nature of many of the resources allows easy entry for those who are displaced form other sectors, especially in times of emergency, but the high degree of skill required to understand the reef fully means that barriers to entry still limit uptake of more complex harvesting strategies.
Unlike many fisheries, where women are excluded from production, the reefs offer opportunities for women to collect from the reef by foot, this has significant benefits in empowering women in the household, and different reef-based strategies between men and women spread household risk. The physical structure of the reef dictates that many activities are done communally and the traditional linkages between reefs and fish and the spirit world mean that reefs can be socially and spiritually unifying.
Whilst these benefit flows sustain the lives of many poor people and stop many more from falling into poverty, their vulnerability to adverse change is increasing. Reef degradation is removing benefit flows, climate change threatens further loss, and well-meaning polices aimed at conserving threatened reefs are often excluding the poor from access to benefit flows or criminalizing that access.
The Reef Livelihood Assessment project
The Reef Livelihoods Assessment (RLA) Project was funded by DFID UK and managed and implemented on their behalf by IMM Ltd of Exeter UK. The project began in November 2001 and was completed by November 2002.
The aim of the RLA project was to use a livelihoods approach to assess the wider, more qualitative, value of coral reefs to vulnerable coastal communities. This knowledge is intended to contribute to informing DFID’s future policy on support for reefs and coastal communities as a strategy for poverty alleviation. It is also hoped that the work will contribute to wider global policy development in the area of poverty and reefs.
The Sustainable Livelihood Approach (SLA) provided a way of understanding both the complexity and holistic nature of the lives of vulnerable coastal communities. This was used during the project to develop a wider context of value, incorporating all aspects of peoples’ lives and using value systems defined by the poor themselves. This provides a much broader understanding of the benefits derived from coral reefs, as well as how and why these benefits have changed over time, and how they may be sustained, enhanced or substituted for in the future. This information is critical for the development of policy regarding support for coral reefs and coastal communities as a strategy of poverty alleviation. It will also contribute more widely to economic and policy research targeting coral reefs and coastal communities, in the pursuit of coral reef management and sustainable development.
The RLA project work started with a broad overview of the literature associated with reefs and poverty and this was distributed to an Internet Advisory Group for comments. Progress and suggestions were posted on the project website. Combining this overview with the SLA, the project developed and tested an appropriate field method together with a partner organisation at the first case study location in the Gulf of Mannar, India. The method was then applied through partner organisations in case studies at two further sites in South Asia and one in East Africa. This research provided an understanding of the nature of poverty amongst reef dependent communities, as well as a picture of the nature and extent of reef benefits to all aspects of the livelihoods of the poor.
This research is presented in four case study reports.
- Cabo Delgado, Mozambique: Kusi Lda and IDPPE
- Gulf of Mannar, India: SPEECH (The Society for People’s Education and Economic Change)
- Andaman Islands, India: ANET (The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team)
- Lakshadweep Islands, India: CARESS (The Centre for Action Research on Environment, Science and Society)
The project was completed in November 2003.