Sustainable Livelihoods

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Sustainable Livelihoods

A livelihood is considered sustainable when it does not undermine its natural resource base, and when it exhibits resilience to stresses and shocks—natural disasters, low crop yields, economic downturn, etc.

The effects of climate change make maintaining this balance all the more challenging, especially for people who work directly with terrestrial and aquatic resources. SFS Centers use interdisciplinary approaches to help students understand how the concept of sustainable livelihoods applies to multi-scale processes, from household decision making to national environmental policy.



Students examine how sociocultural, economic, and political factors shape resource usage across a fragmented rainforest landscape. SFS staff and students, in collaboration with local landholders and stakeholder organizations, focus on regenerating and restoring the rainforest of the Atherton Tablelands while supporting the livelihoods of communities that live there.


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Enshrined in the country’s constitution is the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). This has four pillars—sustainable socioeconomic development, preservation and promotion of culture, conservation of environment, and good governance—all oriented toward producing sustainable livelihoods rather than unsustainable consumption. Students study GNH and how Bhutan’s development policy addresses issues like food security, poverty reduction, cultural preservation, and sustainability.


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Students explore both the high levels of dependence upon natural resources by local populations and the primary drivers of change in local livelihood strategies. The coursework explores approaches to finding a sustainable balance between human needs and biodiversity preservation. Students undertake a range of field trips to understand lowland and upland livelihood strategies of farmers and fishers.


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Students visit rare primary tropical rainforests and learn about the histories of people whose traditions and livelihoods are intimately connected to the Amazon. We study how natural resources have been managed over millennia and examine a suite of livelihood strategies that are both typical of resource-rich, rural areas and unique to Peru. Students learn how nature-society interactions, such as agriculture, resource extraction, tourism, and rural development, have shaped local livelihoods.


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