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North American Regional Consultation on Sustainable Livelihoods, January 13-15,1995

In an era of global social crisis characterised by increasing unemployment, jobless growth and ecological destruction, we need a broader vision of how people can meet their needs in a sustainable way. Attempting to solve the world's employment crisis using conventional job creation through sustained economic growth cannot work.

The concept of livelihood - defined as "a means of living or of supporting life and meeting individual and community needs" - provides new perspectives on developing healthy sustainable societies that provide people with secure and satisfying livelihoods. Sustainable livelihoods are based on a web of functional inter-relationships in which every member of the system is needed and participates. Sustainable livelihoods provide meaningful work that fulfils the social, economic, cultural and spiritual needs of all members of a community - human, non-human, present and future - and safeguards cultural and biological diversity. The following is not an exhaustive listing of the components of sustainable livelihoods but an attempt to identify the key determinants. Sustainable livelihoods:

  • Promote equity between and among generations, races, genders, and ethnic groups; in the access to and distribution of wealth and resources; in the sharing of productive and reproductive roles; and the transfer of knowledge and skills.
  • Nurture a sense of place and connection to the local community, and adapt to and restore regional ecosystems.
  • Stimulate local investment in the community and help to retain capital within the local economy.
  • Base production on renewable energy and on regenerating local resource endowments while reducing intensity of energy use, eliminating over-consumption of local and global resources and assuring no net loss of biodiversity.
  • Utilize appropriate technology that is ecologically fitting, socially just and humane, and that enhances rather than displaces community knowledge and skills.
  • Reduce as much as possible travel to workplace and the distance between producers and users.
  • Generate social as well as economic returns, and value non-monetized as well as paid work.
  • Provide secure access to opportunity and meaningful activity in community life.

These principles encompass a holistic set of values that are non-exploitative, promote participation in decision-making, emphasize the quality and creative nature of work, place needs over wants and foster healthy, mutually beneficial relationships among people and between people and their environment (especially domesticated animals). It is hoped that these principles and their underlying values can stimulate further discussion.

Public Policy

Sustainable livelihoods are supported by political, economic and social policies that enable mutually beneficial relationships to develop among people and the whole community of life. Economic globalization, on the other hand, primarily advances supranational corporate interests, and is often inimical to human and environmental well-being. Current policies externalize social and environmental costs, destroy ecosystems, pit localities into competition with one another, and lower standards. Current measures ignore many of the crucial social functions on which all economies depend, in particular women's tremendous productive and reproductive roles. Policies are now geared toward economic growth based on over-consumption by the few while the needs of the many go unmet. Instead, Socio-economic security and equity, meeting the needs of all and promoting authentic human development should be the overall goals of policy formulation.

Policy formulation should begin with visioning processes that involve all sectors of community, as decisions made by all stakeholders better ensure equity, human rights and effective implementation. Central to a broad policy framework that supports sustainable livelihoods are:

  • an investment in people and the environment as well as in physical capital;
  • explicit recognition that women's empowerment is central to the achievement of broad-based socio-economic goals;
  • broad public participation in the establishment of research priorities and the assessment and selection of technologies consistent with needs of sustainable communities; and
  • new resource accounting and institutional mechanisms for resource allocation and debt management and relief.

Political Priorities

Sustainable livelihoods require public participation and involvement in policy making at all levels to keep government agencies and officials responsive and accountable for their decisions and actions. Political reforms should both limit and make transparent the influence of corporate lobbies and campaign contributions. Corporations should be held accountable to a code of conduct based on principles of social and environmental responsibility. Multi-lateral trade agreements, treaties, and conventions should not supersede local, state, and national sovereignty. Subsidiarity should be an organising principle of government, supporting the local rootedness of livelihoods.

Economic Priorities

To promote sustainable livelihoods power must be rooted in the localized economies. Economic policy should be based on full cost accounting which incorporates social and environmental costs and benefits. Trade agreements and tax policies should favour local needs over export marketing, encourage sustainable production and consumption, and support renewable resource technologies. Such policies will support worker rights, debt relief, and local control over resources within a framework of broader responsibility to share and protect resources.

Socio-Cultural Aspects

Socio-cultural policies should support principles of sustainable livelihoods in education, health, arts and the media, drawing on the wealth of cultural diversity and encouraging exchange of indigenous and modern knowledge, wisdom and skills. Special attention must be given to transforming structures that perpetuate inequity, injustice and intolerance, including those that perpetuate inequality and injustice towards women.

This memorandum is sponsored and supported by 15 major national and international NGOs, NGO networks and institutions including the PCDForum.

Source: Pacific World, No. 35, May 1995.

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