How do the poor adapt to changing circumstances? What are the strategies they follow in the quest for sustainable livelihoods? What means can be used for improving livelihood security?

Drawing on a combination of different scientific approaches, the factors that condition livelihood opportunities for the poor are the subject to multi-level analysis. Particular attention is paid to the wider institutional and political structures, the significance of whose role often tends to be obscured. This approach is applied in research coordinated around two main two sub-themes:

Livelihood challenges of the rural poor
Land and land-based natural resources are core assets for livelihood security in rural settings. Control over these assets is, however, often contentious, due to multiple claims and legal pluralism. This situation can result in a severe limitation of access to such resources for the poor, who are then obliged to secure their livelihoods by other means, including off-farm employment. Particularly in remote mountain areas, this can mean that land and agriculture gradual lose their importance as livelihood assets, as households become increasingly dependant on remittances generated in far removed urban contexts. Research questions include:

  • What are the conditions that can enable the poor to secure access to land and land-based natural resources?
  • How can they best make use of them?
  • And what is their relative importance in livelihood strategies, as compared to other potential sources of revenue?
'Glocalisation' : Institutionalising opportunities for the poor
Globalisation has brought with it a new set of international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), designed to promote trade on a global scale. The structures created by such mammoth organisations exacerbate the risk of further marginalising those too poor to participate in them. Faced with increasingly unfavourable conditions for survival, the poor are often left with no choice but to adopt emergency strategies with no prospects of sustainability. 

An alternative to be investigated is the creation of local institutions designed to enhance opportunities for the poor as they adapt to circumstances shaped by the forces of globalisaton. In order for such institutions to succeed, they need to mediate not only between global and local demands, but also between endogenous traditions and considerations of gender and other social inequalities. The research question is:
  • How can ‘glocal’ institutions be created? By what means can local institutional settings be created that are conducive to the development of livelihood strategies for the poor - strategies sustainable in both local and global settings?


Ulrike Müller-Böker
University of Zurich, Switzerland