Sustainable and alternative livelihood options

The maintenance or enhancement of resource productivity, ownership of and access to assets, resources and income-earning activities as well as ensuring adequate stocks and flows of food and cash to meet basic needs.

Rapidly changing environmental, social and economic drivers, such as climate change, are threatening reef ecosystems, the services they provide and the livelihoods of those dependent on these services. Enhanced socio-economic sustainability will ensure that livelihood options are available in a changing environment, and can support dependent communities. It is key to understand: (i) the ecosystem services that underpin livelihoods, and (ii) the relationships between climate and livelihood activities.  This understanding can help identify the socio-economic conditions likely to influence the capacity of communities to take advantage of alternative livelihood activities like aquaculture or seaweed farming. Ultimately, enhanced and diversified income opportunities are needed that can be maintained under a changing climate and communities have to take advantage of new opportunities that might arise.

There are a number of useful resources specific to the Caribbean on sustainable livelihoods that provide information on how this need is defined and addressed in the region.  However, there are limited online tools or guides for generating sustainable livelihood options.  The resources provided below provide reviews of some current initiatives, and some background to the topic likely to be of interest to managers.  


  • The CARIBSAVE Partnership (Caribbean Sectoral Approach to Vulnerability and ResiliencE) is a regional not-for-profit organization with its headquarters in Barbados, an office in Jamaica and operational staff across the Caribbean: CARIBSAVE works to support and enhance livelihoods, economies and environments around the world, in an era of global environmental change. One of their core thematic study areas is “Society and Livelihoods: Reducing poverty, building capacity and enhancing livelihoods, through participatory engagement of communities, governments and the private sector”. As this is a Caribbean-based organization, Caribbean reef managers can establish partnerships with CARIBSAVE and engage their stakeholders.
  • IUCN has a publication “Sustainable Livelihoods Enhancement and Diversification (SLED): A Manual for Managers”. The Sustainable Livelihoods Enhancement and Diversification SLED approach (SLED) has been developed by the UK based consultancy IMM Ltd. The SLED approach builds on the lessons of past livelihoods research projects and worldwide experience in livelihood improvement and participatory development practice. The approach aims to provide a set of guidance for managers who wish to assist people in diversifying their livelihood options. Under the Coral Reefs and Livelihoods Initiative (CORALI) the SLED approach has been field tested and further developed in different circumstances and institutional settings across Southeast Asia and Indonesia. There is a strong focus on coastal communities, so many of the concepts and discussions will be of interest to Caribbean coastal managers.
  • The Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) has a programme on Coastal and Marine Governance and Livelihoods: The programme aims to improve livelihoods and contribute to poverty reduction by promoting and facilitating sustainable use and governance of coastal and marine resources. Key approaches involve building effective institutions and facilitating collaboration between key stakeholders. A key publication by people participating in this programme is “Getting a seat at the table: Fisherfolk empowerment for policy change in the Caribbean”: This report discusses the accomplishments and challenges of Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisation (CNFO). THE CNFO, established in 2004, has four areas of strategic focus:  information, capacity building, policy advocacy and policy engagement.
  • The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that has developed a “Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA)” as a way to improve understanding of the livelihoods of poor people: The SLA has many guiding principles including; be holistic, be dynamic and build on strengths. Some of the guiding principles are applicable to Caribbean reef managers, such as ‘Be people-centered’. SLA begins by analysing people's livelihoods and how they change over time. The people themselves actively participate throughout the project cycle.

Key publications

Putting the principles of the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach into fisheries development policy and practice (2006) Allison EH and Horemans B. Marine Policy, Vol. 30, Issue 6: 757–766.

Impacts of climate variability and change on fishery-based livelihoods (2010) Badjeck, Marie-Caroline, et al. Marine Policy 34.3 (2010): 375-383.

The livelihoods approach and management of small-scale fisheries (2001) Allison, Edward H. and Frank Ellis. Marine policy 25.5 (2001): 377-388.