SDC's Rural Livelihood Systems (RLS)

Now let us look at a third livelihoods approach that is used and was developed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The SDC blend DFID's SLA concept with an alternative approach that originated in a collaborative research effort on Rural Livelihood Systems (RLS) conducted by NADEL (Postgraduate Studies on Development at ETH Zurich). Originally, the rural livelihood system approach to livelihood was the outcome of a research effort (Swiss National Science Foundation, Module 7) to gain a better understanding of rural people's perception of the potential sustainable management of natural resources in semi-arid areas of India. Farmers and their communities have obviously developed culture and location-specific perceptions of sustainable management of natural resources over many centuries. Sustainable land use represents just one element of a much wider concern among farming communities to establish sustainable livelihoods and to constantly adapt their survival strategies towards this goal. It follows that rural households will participate in sustainable resource management project only if the projects engage meaningfully with their concerns about sustainability at the level of their livelihoods.
The guiding assumption of the RLS research project was the effective strengthening of the self-help capacity of rural households.

The RLS project used an interface of two powerful images that are useful for a holistic perception:

  1. the rural house as a metaphor for livelihood and,
  2. the mandala as a symbol accepted in many cultures for wholeness and a centred universe.

The metaphor of the rural house suggests a three-tiered perception of livelihood: the foundation represents the material and non-material resource base, including the emotional resource base for people's livelihood (or inner and outer realities). The walls form, metaphorically, the room with three different notions of 'space', placing the family decision-making at the space centre. Finally, the roof points to the three-fold orientation of a livelihood system

  1. collective orientations,
  2. the orientations of the family, and
  3. the orientations in the mind and heart of the individual.

The RLS mandala thus integrates external and internal realities.

Open and study the animation in the right-hand column:

Perceptions of a Livelihood System

Livelihood-oriented investigation requires an approach capable of reconciling two fundamentally different perceptions of a livelihood system and embedded strategy.
These are the perceptions of outside observers, such as researchers or development agents on the one hand, and the perceptions of the insiders concerned, i.e. the members of the livelihood system approached by the investigator on the other (SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) 2007).

These two perceptions are shown in the figure in the right-hand column:

The two perceptions might therefore project different realities.

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