Livelihood-Environment Nexus: The Reconciling Role of Permaculture, Case Study on Konso Woreda of Segen Peoples Zone in SNNPR, Ethiopia

Master's Thesis, 2012

103 Pages, Grade: 3.64


Table of Contents


List of map and figures



Chapter One: Introduction
1.1. Background and rational of the study
1.2. Statement of the problem
1.3. Objective of the study
1.3.1. General objective
1.3.2. Specific objectives
1.4. Research questions
1.5. Significance of the study
1.7. Limitation of the study
1.8. Organization of the Study

Chapter Two: Literature Review
2.1. The concept of livelihood and Environment
2.2. The Link between Environment and Livelihood
2.3. Approaches towards Environment and Livelihood
2.3.1. Sustainable Livelihood Approach
2.3.2. Sustainable Agriculture Approach
2.4. The Role of Governance in Livelihood and Environmental Strategies
2.5. Permaculture
2.5.1. Understanding the Concept Permaculture
2.5.2. Principles and Ethics of Permaculture
2.5.3. The Concept of Zoning in Permaculture
2.5.4. Soil Improvement and Plant Management in Permaculture
2.5.5. Livelihood in Permaculture

Chapter Three: Background of the Study Area.
3.1. Location, topography, and population
3.2. Climate
3.3. Socioeconomic Condition of the People
3.4. Agriculture System
3.5. Environment Condition of the Area
3.6. The Problem of Food Insecurity

Chapter Four: Methodology
4.1. Selection of the study site and Sampling Techniques
4.2. Types and Sources of Data and Tools of Data Collection
4.5. Method of Data analysis

Chapter Five: Presentation and Discussion
5.1. Vulnerability and Roots of Vulnerability
5.2. Progress and Achievements
5.2.1. Impact on Attitude
5.2.2. Impact on Environment
5.3.3. Outcomes on Productivity
5.3.4. Outcomes on Income Generation
5.2.5. New knowledge Obtained
5.2.6. Integration with Local Knowledge
5.2.7. Expansion of the Practice
5.2.8. The Involvement of Stakeholders
5.2.9. Opportunities and Obstacles
5.3. The Practice of Permaculture in Konso under the Lens of DFID’s Sustainable Livelihood Framework and Agro-ecological Approach
5.3.1. A Look through DFID’s SLF
5.3.2. From Agro-ecological Perspective

Chapter Six: Conclusion and Recommendations
6.1. Conclusion
6.2. Recommendations




The realization of this thesis has required the contributions of important individuals and organizations whose contributions to be acknowledged here. Hence, next to God, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to my advisor Dr.Waktole Tiki for his valuable comments, polite approach and patience until the completion of this thesis. My special thanks also directed to Mr. Tichafa Makovere for his encouragement and comments to do my thesis on this topic. Inseparably, I would also thank Mr. Alex McCausland for his cooperation in allowing observation of his permaculture field in Karat Strawberry Fields Eco lodge and participation with volunteers working there. A local permaculture expert Mr. Asmelash Dagne who helped me with all of what he has from providing reading materials to commenting me throughout my stay in Konso is also really unforgettable man to be thanked. I also like to thank Mr. Leykun Abunie, biodiversity conservation specialist of ESTA head office, for kindly assisting me with his rich knowledge on environment issues. CISS-Ethiopia and its staffs also deserve special thank for their cooperation.

I would also like to thank the following persons from the depth of my heart for they helped me during my stay in Konso. Mr. Halage (director of Karat primary and junior school), Zinash and Legesse Gebru (teachers at karat primary and junior school), Taye Kaytale (teacher at gocha primar and junior school), Sekendo Zerihun (teacher at Seugeme primary school), Edilu Aylate and Nuriya (experts in konso information assembly and distribution department), Kora Yaysato (Expert in KMYDC), Abel Lemita (Coordinator of ESTA in Konso), Addisu Kachacha (staff in Konso Culture and Information Office), all staff of Karat Strawberry Fields Eco lodge and all my interviewees and focus group participants and finally all who contributed directly or indirectly to this study.

List of Maps and Figures

1. Map of Konso which also indicates the research sites

2. Figure 1: Asset Pentagon

3. Figure 2:SLF

4. Figure 3: Permaculture garden in Karat Primary and Junior School

5. Figure 4:Harvesting from permaculture gardens of Karat and debena Primary and Junior Schools

6. Figure 5: some of the harvests from permaculture garden ready for sell at karat primary and junior school

7. Figure 6: Exchange of products of permaculture for money at karat primary and junior school

8. Figure 7: Water holding and circulating structure called ‘manddala’

9. Figure 8: conceptual portrait of the argument of the thesis


illustration not visible in this excerpt


This thesis titled ‘Livelihood-Environment Nexus: The Reconciling Role of permaculture, Case study in Konso Woreda’ is an attempt to assess the practice of permaculture in Konso woreda in the context of the livelihood and environment condition of the woreda. The study is targeted to the assessment of the role of permaculture in reconciling livelihood-environment interaction as a general objective, and to examine the role of permaculture in improving livelihood conditions as well as in protecting the environment and to investigate how the environment can be managed for the sustainability of livelihood as specific objectives. It is believed that the corresponding research questions which are posed at the initiation of the study are answered to meet the stated objectives. In order to get deeper information on the issue an exclusively qualitative research methodology with purposive sampling technique in which the major participants were farmers and teachers was employed. The data collection tools used includes in-depth interview, key informant interview, focus group discussion, observation and secondary data. Accordingly, the study has tried to examine the context in which permaculture was introduced in Konso woreda and the progress of permaculture from the view point of major indicators like impact on the environment, productivity and income generation . The study has also tried to assess the practice of permaculture as livelihood strategy in Konso area based on DFID’s SLF and the theory of agro-ecological approach. Through these investigations and logical analysis the study came to the finding that there are improvements in environment condition, productivity and income which indicates the potential of permaculture to influence the livelihood and environment improvement of the study area. It has also brought new knowledge which can foster the long lasted and appreciated indigenous knowledge of the study area. It was also identified that there is no well organized interaction and involvement of concerned stakeholders on the practice in the study area. Based on this the study came to the conclusion that if things are plain, permaculture has the potential to bring improvement on the natural capital which can ultimately leads to improvement in productivity (secured food) and can contribute to the buildup of other livelihood assets.

Key words: Livelihood, Environment, Permaculture

CHAPTER ONE Introduction

1.1. Background of the Study

Environment-livelihood Nexus, the main focus of this thesis, reflects both the direct and complex or interwoven links between the natural environment and the livelihoods (social, economic, political and cultural life) of human community. The relation is direct in that improvement and sustainability of the natural environment entails the corresponding improvement and sustainability of livelihood. In the same manner, negative conditions of the environment results in corresponding negative impact on livelihood. The relation is complex in that in most cases livelihood activity is becoming a threat to the environment, but still dependent on the environment, requiring harmony of protecting the environment and at the same time getting necessities of livelihood. These conditions require reconciliation between the environment and livelihood at various level and context. Permaculture is an innovative farming system which is intended to play this reconciling role. Here under somewhat an elaborated discussion of this issue as the base and rationale of the study is made. The discussion proceeds from more general and global understanding of the problem to country specific conditions and then lastly to research area specific understanding of the issue.

One of the issues widely and hotly discussed and discoursed was and is the issue of Environment. Global fear on environmental crisis is increasing from time to time because of the continuing depletion of the environmental resources (Baxter, 2005). As stated by Haenn and Wilk (2006:1) today environmental problems threaten not only natural ecological qualities but also humanities very existence. Thus, it can be inferred that life, including the human species, sustains as far as the natural environment is guaranteed to sustain. This will be so if the whole life, specially the human life style, is arranged in accordance with the ecosystem (Ingold, 2000).

Although environmental problems have global effect, the source of the problem is contextual (and local). In industrial nations the issue is highly, but not exclusively, related to air and water pollution. So that pollution control mechanisms and environment friendly production methods, type of products and ways of consumption are promoted. On the other hand environmental problems in developing countries, which constitute the largest portion of the world community, are mostly related with land degradation, desertification and loss of soil fertility and the resulting low productivity and vulnerability to poverty (Altieri, 1989).

In developing countries livelihood is based on direct production from nature, mainly through agriculture. According to Task Force on Climate Change, Vulnerable Communities and Adaptation (2003), predominantly the poor of the world depend directly on natural resources, through cultivation, herding, collecting or hunting for their livelihoods. An edition by World Resources Institute (2005:45) puts it as small-scale agriculture, the farming that the poor pursue, is the silent giant that supports the great majority of the rural residents in poor nations. Because of the increasing number of population on the one hand and the decreasing productivity of the existing land on the other hand, expansion of land by clearing of forest covers is common.

The issue of environmental protection in this context poses a complex problem that: how could improvement in livelihood and protection of the environment reconciled/go together? - In other words, is it possible to sustainably preserve the environment and at the same time extract food and income from the environment? This is a real problem in countries like Ethiopia where the economy is mainly agrarian.

It is an obvious fact that most developing countries based their economy in the agricultural sector. But it witnessed decreasing productivity over time in most cases related to climate change and degradation of the land. What we observe in Ethiopian case is not far different from this trend. In Ethiopia agriculture is considered as the back bone of the economy. It provides a livelihood for 85% of the population and generates over 90 percent of the export revenue and produces raw materials for the industries and food needed by its fast growing population (Tesfaye, 2003).

This reality of the country’s dependence on agriculture both for export and subsistence economy, as studies indicated, accompanied with degradation of the natural resources, putting at risk the sustainability of the sector. For instance the Ethiopian Highland Reclamation Study showed that the agricultural practices have resulted in a progressive loss of soil, consequently resulting in stagnation and/or decreasing crop yield (Menfese, 2010)

Efforts are made at vast to change this condition through modern scientific technologies through agricultural extension programs, these includes largely fertilizers and other agrochemicals, targeted towards increasing productivity. But, the issue of sustainability is still in question because the target is mainly to meet short term productivity. According to Menfese (2010), when there is a need to increase agricultural production, the chosen path is generally to maximize production in high potential areas.

Since its initiation and to the present day, the focus of the extension system in the country was to introduce new technologies to the farming communities, mainly fertilizers, but also improved seeds and other agrochemicals. The pace of the extension service since 1994 has shown a great leap in the provision of these inputs to farmers. For instance, annual sales of chemical fertilizers have grown from 32,000 tonnes in 1982 to 280,000 tonnes during 1998 (Tesfaye, 2003:42).

It is agreed that this may bring success in the short run but its long run effect will be negative. If the natural resource base is not managed for the long term, if it is exploited and polluted for short-term gain, it will never provide the fuel for economic development on the scale demanded to relieve poverty and sustainable development (World Resource Institute, 2005)

Despite these efforts, food insecurity still prevails in many parts of the country. Chronic poverty in Ethiopia, particularly in rural areas often cannot be separated from chronic food insecurity. Many rural Ethiopians are food insecure at one time or another (Chronic Poverty Research Center Chronic, 2007). Thus, the livelihood and sustainability question of the sector is unanswered and at challenge so far. As such, Ethiopia faces the challenge of how to increase current agricultural production while maintaining the future productive capacity of the natural resource base (Menfese, 2010)

The condition in Konso is the same. The Konso people are well known for their agricultural land management which lasted for half a millennium, and registered as 9th Ethiopian international heritage. Modern agriculture extension programs are also implemented and being implemented, just like other parts of the country. However, degradation of the natural resource coupled with drought and food insecurity in Konso appear to be very frequent as elders of the area remember well the droughts that have occurred in their life since the 1940s (ibid).

The above discussion shows mainly two general and mutually dependent problematic con[1] ditions: the depletion of the natural resource base (the environment) on one hand and food insecurity (deterioration in livelihood condition) on the other hand. Even in areas like konso where good traditional farming system practiced, the environment is degrading from time to time. Since the life of the majority people is based on agriculture, this is followed by increasing food insecurity in the area. Therefore, there must be an innovative improvement that promotes sustainable and environmentally friendly farming system that meets the problem of declining livelihood and environment degradation.

Permaculture is a recent concept and practice introduced by two Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren by 1970’s to refer sustainable agriculture which promotes natural farming that can be done in concordance with nature. It also intended to maintain and enable the local knowledge of farming to be more innovative in accommodating ecological concerns. The practice was introduced in konso area in 2008 with the objectives of solving environmental and livelihood problems that are explained above and to promote important local knowledge. International and local trainings are being held regularly at some intervals by international Permaculture practitioners in collaboration with an organization called Konso Strawberry Fields Eco lodge 1. Locally, since its inception, theoretical and practical trainings mainly to farmers, agricultural experts and school teachers were given, what they are expected to apply on their farm lands. But little, if not nothing, is known about its progress and achievements in addressing the intended goal; that is maintaining the environment and improving livelihood (primarily ensuring food security).

1.2. Statement of the Problem

Based on the fact that Ethiopia’s economy is highly agrarian and the life of the majority of the population is connected to this sector, it is better to understand efforts of livelihood improvement and the protection of the environment within this existing context. As it is discussed in the background of the study part above, for a long time Ethiopia has made tremendous efforts to improve the productivity of this sector. The problem is, however, to reconcile increasing productivity (primarily ensuring food security) to improve livelihood and the management of the degrading natural resource base (the environment, in general) sustainably, within the context of increasing population pressure and limited resources (particularly land), in which the sustainability of the former (productivity) depends on the later (environment) for its realization. Thus, the need for innovative farming system that is efficient, which is environmentally friendly and economically profitable, is in need more than ever before.

Likewise, more than 80 percent of Konso population lead agriculture based livelihood. The Konso people are well known for their environment and land management, particularly their peculiarity in terracing system. Unfortunately, however, like many parts of the country, productivity of agriculture is degrading continuously and the area is also one of the places repeatedly prone to drought. Konso is one of the food-insecure areas of the country. Growing food insecurity is partly rooted in the continuously degrading natural resources particularly farm lands (Menfese, 2010; Tesfaye, 2003).

The practice of permaculture was introduced in Konso area in 2008 within the context of these problematic conditions (declining livelihood and degrading natural resources). But as the gap in the background part shows its impact was not assessed so far. Therefore, an assessment of the simultaneous role of permaculture in the area in improving and sustaining livelihood and the ecosystem will entail an insight for further measurements to solve the livelihood-environment complexity.

1.3. Objectives of the Study

General Objective

The general objective of this study is to assess the role of permaculture in reconciling Livelihood-Environment interaction.

Specific Objectives

Drawing from the general objective, the study has tried to address the following specific objectives.

- To examine the role of permaculture in improving livelihood conditions as well as in protecting the environment.
- To investigate how the environment can be managed for the sustainability of livelihood.

1.4. Research questions

In relation to the objectives stated, this study has tried to answer the following questions which are posed at the initiation of the research.

- Can permaculture improve livelihood conditions? and at the same time enable to protect the environment?
- What are the new things introduced by permaculture, that are not in the existing system?
- How could permaculture enable to protect the environment at the same time generating necessities of livelihood?

1.5. Significance of the Study

The immediate significance is that it will enable to understand the impact of permaculture for further measurements in the study area, and other areas in general. This study will also have direct relevance for the present condition of Ethiopia. That is, it can contribute for the present effort of the government to ensure food security (livelihood improvement, in general) on one hand and environment protection on the other hand. Thus, it will serve as an input for agricultural and environmental policy of the country. It will also serve as the base for further deep studies on the area in the future and an input for environment governance studies as well.

1.6. Limitations of the Study

Finance and time have been the main constraints of this research. Some crucial data were not fully extracted because of the need for additional finance to conduct them. Despite these and other constraints encountered during the research period, the researcher tried his best and worked hard with patience for the success of the study.

1.7. Organization of the Study

This thesis is organized in six chapters. Chapter one is an introduction part which discusses about the background of the study, statement of the problem, the objectives, research questions and limitations study. Chapter two presents a review of different literatures and theoretical basis of the research and there by clarifying concepts that are used in the study, these include approaches and models on livelihood and the environment. Chapter three presents the methodologies to be used in the research. Chapter four is about the background of the study area. The reason for discussing this chapter in separation from chapter three (methodology) is to give extended information about the study area for it will give good picture of the condition of the area in relation to the study, thus the discussion includes about the location, topography, socio-economic conditions, agriculture and production system and environment conditions and activities in protecting the environment. Chapter five is a presentation, analysis and discussion on the practice and progress of permaculture in the area. The main points of discussion include; the applicability and problem solving potential of permaculture in the context of the area, activities that make permaculture new from the existing practices, the progress and achievements through permaculture so far, local people’s attitude towards permaculture and participation by government and non-government bodies on permaculture. This chapter has tried to explain the practice of permaculture through DFID’s SLF and the theory of agro-ecological approach. The last chapter, Chapter Six, is a conclusion and recommendation part.

CHAPTER TWO Review of Literatures

In this chapter clarification and explanations on important and key concepts used in the research, approaches and other related important topics that are helpful for the analysis of livelihood-environment relationship are discussed.

2.1. The concept of livelihood and the Environment


The concept of livelihood can be understood in different angles according to the context it is used. But, the underlying concept has common basis. The following are definitions of livelihood given by different bodies, with a relatively common ground.

By livelihoods, we mean the whole complex of factors that allow families to sustain themselves materially, emotionally, spiritually, and socially (World Resource Institute, 2005:34)

A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base (Task Force on Climate Change, Vulnerable Communities and Adaptation, 2003:12)

This study uses in one or another way the elements used to define livelihood in the above two definitions of livelihood. The second definition includes both the concept of livelihood and sustainable livelihood. Hence, the concept of sustainable livelihood that is used throughout this study can be understood based on this definition.

The Environment

The Concept of environment is used in this study from the perspective of the natural ecosystem. World Resource Institute (2005) defined the natural ecosystem as follows;

An ecosystem is a community of interacting organisms and the physical environment they live in. We know ecosystems as the forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, coral reefs, rivers, estuaries, and other living environments that surround us. They also include the farms, pastures, and rangelands collectively known as agro-ecosystems that feed us. They are the earth’s living engines of production, providing the goods and services, like air, food, fiber, water, aesthetics, and spiritual values that make life possible for rich and poor alike (World Resource Institute, 2005:4)

This system within the ecology constitutes: producers, consumers and decomposers. Plants are producers, they produce their own food. Animals are consumers and fungi, bacteria and soil organisms can be considered as decomposers. Healthy ecosystem is a one which sustains undisturbed connection between these constituents of the system (Epstein, et’al, 2006).

2.2. The Link between Livelihood and the Environment

As attempted to high light above, the sources of livelihood is to high extent dependent on the natural environment. For this reason the relationship between the two can be said direct relationship in which the environment is the main factor of livelihood. But, it is better to look the strength of the relationship contextually. For example as discussed in the background part, developing countries are more dependent on the natural environment as the major source of the livelihood than industrial countries that depend largely on industries.

Although the life of humanity everywhere is dependent on the natural environment, livelihood-environment relationship can be best explained by the fact that majority of the world population, particularly those in developing countries, depend directly on natural resources, through cultivation, herding, collecting or hunting for their livelihoods (Task Force on Climate Change, Vulnerable Communities and Adaptation, 2003)

Moreover, the great majority of the world’s poor are concentrated in rural areas. As a matter of fact, as stated in the above paragraph, they primarily depend on the natural environment for their livelihood. Based on this reality, if the natural resource base is not managed for the long term, or if it is exploited and polluted for short-term gain, it will never provide the fuel for economic development on the scale demanded to relief poverty or ensure sustainable livelihood in general. Because of this, since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the importance of a sound environment to sustainable livelihoods (relief poverty) has been widely acknowledged (World Resource Institute, 2005).

Because of this direct relationship with ecosystems or immense importance of the natural ecosystems to rural livelihoods, the rural poor derive a significant portion of their livelihood from the ecosystem. Harvests from forests, fisheries, and farm fields are a primary source of rural income. But programs to reduce poverty often fail to account for the important link between environment and the livelihoods of the rural poor. Income (livelihood) derived through such kind of dependence on the ecosystem can be termed as environmental income. Because of their dependence on environmental income, the poor are especially vulnerable to ecosystem degradation (ibid)

As explained by UNEP-UNDP Poverty-Environment Initiative (2009:7), the natural environment, or the ecosystem, provides services on which poor people rely for their well-being and basic needs. Livelihoods can be sustainable or not, depending on the way the environment is managed. Environmental quality contributes directly and indirectly to economic development. These contributions are particularly important in developing countries in such sectors as agriculture, for their economy is largely agrarian.

2.3. Approaches towards Environment-Livelihood Dilemma

In this study two approaches that explain the link between the natural environment and livelihood are used. In the following part these two approaches, Sustainable Livelihood and Agro-ecological Approaches, are discussed. For the purpose of wide understanding and clarity some concepts and ideas that are supportive but not the direct concerns of the study are also mentioned and discussed in relation to the main topic of concern.

2.3.1. Sustainable Livelihood Approach (SLA)

In her unpublished document prepared under United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Mona Haidar stated SLA as a way of thinking about the objectives, scopes and priorities for development (Haider, 2009:3) 2.

Sustainable livelihood approach became important way for understanding and implementing sustainable development strategies. According to Menfese (2010:30) historically the idea of the concept of the SLA, was appeared first in research literatures in the 1980s. Among these Brundtland Commission on Environment and Development was the first to introduce sustainable livelihoods approach for the first time as a way of linking[2] socio-economic (livelihood) and ecological considerations in a cohesive, policy-relevant structure. Later the concept was further expanded by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) for the reduction of poverty through sustainable livelihood development strategies (Krantz, 2001).

As explained by Krantz (2001), there is understanding between different agencies concerned with poverty reduction and environment conservation that sustainable livelihood approach can enable to achieve the effort of sustainable development, poverty reduction and environment protection simultaneously.

It stated that sustainable livelihoods could serve as an integrating factor that allows policies to address development, sustainable resource management, and poverty reduction simultaneously. Most of the discussion on SL so far has focused on rural areas and situations where people are farmers or make a living from some kind of primary self-managed production (Krantz, 2001:6)

Since the 1990s SLA has been adopted by the Department for International Development (DFID) as a part of the United Kingdom development policy, and used in different development program and poverty reduction strategies through DFID. This study has also used the approach developed and in use by DFID to assess the role of permaculture in Konso.

Sustainable Livelihood Framework (SLF)

The SLA uses a frame work called the Sustainable Livelihood Framework (SLF) to explain and understand vulnerabilities based on the idea of livelihood assets. According to DFID’s Sustainable Livelihood Sheet (1999), SLF is a tool to improve our understanding of livelihoods, particularly the livelihoods of the poor, or in other words as Mona Haider (2009) stated in a document contributed to United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, it is a conceptual frame work to aid analysis of the factors affecting people’s livelihoods. Placing the concerned people at center, the framework presents the various factors of this people’s livelihood and the relationships between the influencing factors. The analysis may be used for planning new development activities or to assess the existing activities in sustaining livelihood.

Secured and sustainable livelihood has to cope up with in what is called vulnerability context. According to the document of DFID (1999) vulnerability context is one which frames the external environment in which people exist. According to the analysis made within figure two the vulnerability context can be understood by the components of shocks, seasonality and trends. Haider (2009) described these three factors as follows:-

1. Shocks: conflict, natural disasters (floods, drought, etc), economic shocks or health shocks.
2. Seasonality: seasonal fluctuations in prices, production, employment opportunities.
3. Trends: population, environment change, technology, market and trade.

Livelihood Approach considers the strength of the concerned people in an effort to create better livelihood. This strength of the people is measured in terms of their asset or capital endowment (DFID, 1999). Livelihood assets are understood as the means of production available to a given individual, household or group that can be used in their livelihood activities. These assets are the basis on which livelihoods are built. There are generally five forms of livelihood assets identified in most approaches here under these assets are discussed based on Task Force on Climate Change, Vulnerable Communities and Adaptation (2003:12)

1. Natural capital: This is an asset which is naturally available to an individual, household or a society from which they obtain some or most of their livelihood necessities. This includes all natural resources, like forests, fish stocks and farm lands to cite only some. As it is discussed earlier in developing countries, like ours Ethiopia, livelihood is dependent on agriculture (land being an important natural capital).
2. Social-political capital: This capital can be understood as stable and well functioning social and political organizations that facilitate the improvements of livelihood and provide livelihood options. These includes the structuring, formation and enhancement of governmental, private and even cultural institutions and organization that can enable an individual or household to wider livelihood options and improvements like access to markets, credit, government services and many other factors of production.
3. Human capital: this is an asset related personality condition and development, and setups that enable this improvements so as to effectively work on available livelihood options. This includes skills, knowledge, and ability to labor and good health, and conditions that enable to acquire these things (for example formal and informal education)
4. Physical capital: owning or accessibility to basic infrastructure like transport, buildings, water management, energy, and communications and productive capital (tools, machines, etc.) which enables people to improve livelihood at hand and pave additional livelihood options. These can be provided by government or private organizations.
5. Financial capital: The financial resources which are available to people either derived from existing livelihood or directly accessible from other bodies which enable them to improve their existing livelihood or access to other different livelihood options

Taken together, these livelihood assets determine much about how livelihoods work, and in particular are the basis for understanding how people will respond to climate-induced vulnerabilities. Thus, all of these assets are important, but for the poorest and most vulnerable of the world (especially the rural poor), natural resources are of particular significance because the poor of the world depend directly on natural resources, through cultivation, herding, collecting or hunting for their livelihoods. Therefore, for the livelihoods to be sustainable for these people, the natural resources must be kept sustained (Task Force on Climate Change, Vulnerable Communities and Adaptation, 2003)

Out of these five livelihood assets the main concern of this study is on the natural capital. As discussed above the natural capital mean many things for the poor. Natural capital (natural resource, particularly farm land) is understood in this study as the base for accessing other sorts of assets. For example, once this asset is achieved, it will serve as the source of income and base for creating financial capital which in turn enables to attain the other assets like human capital and the physical capital. Hence, the productivity and sustainability of this asset gives security for their livelihood. Supportive to this DFID (1999) stated that clearly, natural capital is very important to those who derive all or part of their livelihoods from resource-based activities, such as farming.

According to Ian Scoones who prepared IDS Working Paper 72 (1998), natural resource base sustainability refers to the ability of a system to maintain productivity when subject to disturbing forces, whether a ‘stress’ (a small, regular, predictable disturbance with a cumulative effect) or a ‘shock’ (a large infrequent, unpredictable disturbance with immediate impact). This implies avoidance of the depletion of natural resources stocks to a level which results in an effectively permanent increase in the rate at which the natural resource base yields useful for livelihoods (IDS Working Paper 72, 1998)

Here it is better to mention the concept of asset pentagon to explain how access to and link between livelihood assets can be represented. The asset pentagon lies at the core of the livelihoods framework, within the vulnerability context. The pentagon was developed to enable information about people’s assets to be presented visually, thereby bringing to life important inter-relationships between the various assets.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Asset pentagon (source DFID, 1999)

Based on variation in people’s access to assets, different shapes of the pentagon can be portrayed to show their access to assets. The use of the pentagon and how it can be understood is explained by DFID as follows;

The center point of the pentagon, where the lines meet, represents zero access to assets while the outer perimeter represents maximum access to assets. On this basis different shaped pentagons can be drawn for different communities or social groups within communities. It is important to note that a single physical asset can generate multiple benefits. If someone has secure access to land (natural capital) they may also be well-endowed with financial capital and then other assets will be accessed (DFID, 1999)

The following sustainable livelihood framework analytical figure representation is used in this study for the evaluation of permaculture in achieving its target.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2: DFID Sustainable livelihood framework (source Menfese Taddese, 2010)

Therefore, a given livelihood improvement strategy has to be measured from achieving or potentially achieving sustainable livelihood within these contexts. That is sustainable livelihood is one which survives within the challenges that come in the form of shocks, seasonality and trends.

The other important consideration that can be understood from the above figure is a given livelihood improvement strategy’s integration within structures, policies and programs of both government and private institutions and cultures of the community concerned, to bring outcomes that ensure sustainable livelihood for the concerned people.

In view of this study, the effort has to be with contextual priority asset creation. As discussed above, the rural poor are more dependent on the natural resources for their livelihood. In this context the priority has to be on the natural capital assurance, indeed this asset will be the base for forming other assets. For example if a farm field (which more accessible for the rural poor) is kept productive and sustainable, it will become a source of income, ensuring wellbeing and food security.

In regard to this idea the framework is used for the analysis of the practice of permaculture as a livelihood strategy, within which vulnerability context it applied and its implications for sustainability, its impact on livelihood assets, the transforming structures and processes within which it is undergoing and the outcomes it is targeted to and achievements since its inception.

2.3.2. Sustainable Agriculture approach

Given the many conceptions of Sustainable agriculture (agro-ecology), it can be broadly understood as a new scientific discipline that defines, classifies and studies agricultural systems from an ecological and socio-economic perspective. Agro-ecology provides the methodology to understand the productivity of agricultural system and considers the ecological principles necessary to develop sustainable production system (Altieri, 1989).

Therefore, Agro-ecology is the application of ecological concepts and principles to the study, design, and management of sustainable agricultural systems. This is based on the understanding that sustainability in economic development in general and agriculture sector relies on the health and sustainability of the natural resources base (ecosystem). Agriculture is treated not as an independent sector or industry but as a critical element in achieving broader social and economic goals (can be the base for keeping and maintaining the health of the ecosystem, ensuring human development, financial capital, infrastructure development and etc, but in supplement with other sectors). Sullivan puts this role of agro-ecology perspective further saying that it attempts to enable researchers, resource managers, development officials, and others to understand how multiple ecological, social, economic, and policy factors collectively determine the performances of agricultural systems (Sullivan, 2003)

Certain experiences show that improvements on the agriculture sector leads to improvements in livelihood. For example one study in Africa found that a 10 percent increase in crop yields led to a 9 percent decrease in the number of people living on $1 per day. Of course the sustainability of this improvements need good ecosystem management including the activities of building and retaining soil fertility and harvest and efficient use water resources, conserving the surrounding nature too (World Resource Institute, 2005).

Most, if not all, past economic developments were made at the expense of the ecosystem which negatively affects the sustainability of the achieved development over generations. Indeed, the problem is also evidently continuing. We can take the developments of the 1960s on wards as an example here.

Since the 1960s, with the advent of improved agricultural technologies, there has been considerable achievement in improving agricultural production and human development indicators. The success stories which appeared in the 1960s (and subsequently) raised concerns and debate regarding the impact of development on environment. The realization of the limitations of the biophysical environment in sustaining human society in a long-term perspective, as well as the application of technologies that are not environmentally-friendly, has led to much debate pertaining to the relationship between environment and development (Menfese, 2010)

Sustainable agriculture can provide opportunities to address productivity and environmental goals simultaneously. By adopting alternative land use practices that can reduce the need to abandon established farm land and that can restore degraded land to economic and biological productivity, farmers can meet their food needs and make an adequate living without contributing to the further depletion of forests and other natural resources (Committee on Sustainable Agriculture and the Environment in the Humid Tropics, 1993)

The realization of sustainable agriculture requires increased production without depleting the natural resources or polluting it. It can also be understood as agriculture that follows the principles of nature (working friendly with nature rather than against) to develop a system which is self-sus­taining. As Earles said sustainable agriculture is also the agriculture of social values, one whose suc­cess is indistinguishable from vibrant rural communities (Earles, 2005). This is best explained by Sullivan as follows.

Sustainable agriculture depends on a whole-system approach whose overall goal is the continuing health of the land and people. Therefore it concentrates on long-term solutions to problems instead of short-term treatment of symptoms. Sustainable agriculture can be viewed as ecosystem management of complex interactions among soil, water, plants, animals, climate and people. The goal is to integrate all these factions in to a production system that is appropriate for the environment, the people, and the economic condition where the farm is located. Farms become and stay environmentally sustainable by imitating natural systems, creating a farm landscape that mimics as closely as possible the complexity of healthy ecosystems (Sullivan, 2003)

The concept of agricultural sustainability has grown from an initial focus on environmental aspects to include first economic and then broader social and political dimensions . As Pretty (2006) stated the ecological dimension in sustainable agriculture is about reducing negative environmental and health externalities on nature, to enhance and use local ecosystem resources, and preserve biodiversity. Rather designing agriculture systems that have positive impact on the environment like developments in carbon capture in soils and flood protection.

The economic perspective is about setting a limit on economic activities that are a threat to the ecological assets, so as to ensure long term sustainability of the economy itself. For example this includes avoidance of any system that promotes the depletion of resources (ibid)

The Social and political dimension of agricultural sustainability is about reducing inequity of the economy and socio-political life through the promotion of an agriculture system suitable to and participative of local institutions, culture and farming communities and enabling policies that target on sustainable poverty reduction (ibid).

Sullivan (2003:2) also put these dimensions in his words as the three main objectives of sustainable agriculture. Farming sustainably means growing crops and livestock in ways that meet three objectives simultaneously :-

- Economic profit(sustainability)

This includes indicators like consistent growth of family saving or net worth, declining family debt, consistent profitability of farm enterprises, decreased purchase of off-farm feed and fertilizer and decreasing reliance on government payments.

- Social sustainability

In this case the farm supports other businesses and the families in the community and interest on farming increases, even drawing the attention of people in the other sectors.

- Environmental sustainability

This can be expressed by the absence of bare ground (green cover), the flow of clean water in the farm ditches and streams, abundance of wild life and diversity of vegetations.

As Sullivan puts it there are several types of agro ecological practices and resource-conserving technologies that can be used to improve the stocks and use of natural capital in and around agro ecosystems. These are:

- Integrated pest management: which uses ecosystem resilience and diversity for pest, disease and weed control, and seeks only to use pesticides when other options are ineffective
- Integrated nutrient management: This seeks both to balance the need to fix nitrogen within farm systems with the need to import inorganic and organic sources of nutrients, and to reduce nutrient losses through erosion control.
- Conservation tillage - which reduces the amount of tillage, sometime to zero, so that soil can be conserved and available moisture used more efficiently.
- Agro-forestry – This is a way of incorporating multifunctional trees into agricultural systems, and collective management of nearby forest resources.

2.4. The Role of Governance in Livelihood and Environmental Strategies

To see the role of governance in livelihood and environmental strategies, it is important to make a look on the general and recent concepts of governance and environmental governance for better understanding and discussion of the issue at hand.

The Concepts of Governance and Environment Governance

Many definitions of governance are available according to organizations and individual’s interpretation and use of the concept. Among the many definitions the 1995 European commission definition can be taken as best fitting with the modern understanding of the concept of governance. According to Bene and Neiland (2006) the commission puts the definition as follows;

Governance may be defined as the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and a co-operative action may be taken. It includes formal institutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceive to be in their interests (Bene and Neiland, 2006:6).

Drawing on the definition of governance given above, one of the definitions of environmental governance is given on the Wikipedia web page on environmental governance as follows.

Environmental governance is a concept in political ecology or environmental policy related to defining the elements needed to achieve sustainability. All human activities political, social and economic should be understood and managed as subsets of the environment and ecosystems . Environment governance includes not only government, but also business and civil society, and emphasizes whole system management3[3].

Governance as a network of different stakeholders plays an important role in the achievement of a given strategy targeted to solve problems within a given community. The integration of the strategy with in the systems, programs and projects of different concerned organizations hastens the success of the strategy at hand. This includes enhancing participation of the community concerned at different levels as required and as possible.

According to DFID work sheet (1999) Transforming Structures and Processes such as institutions, organizations, policies and legislations shape and determine the success of livelihood strategies. They have also a direct impact upon whether people are able to achieve a feeling of inclusion and well-being. The governance system assigns, identifies and arranges the roles, responsibilities and relations of the different stakeholders (government and non-government organizations, communities and even individuals) (DFID, 1999).

- Roles are about who (which organizations) actually does what?
- Responsibilities are about what responsibilities do different organizations have? Is there adequate responsibility at lower levels and outside formal structures? How are responsibilities established and enforced? Are they reflected in policy/legislation?
- Relations are about what is the current state of relations between different groups? How do policies (and the bodies that make them) relate to legislation (and the bodies that implement this)?

The influence of cultural context is also eminent. A given livelihood strategy may be enhanced or constrained by the cultural context of the area concerned. Thus, it has to make cultural considerations before its implementation. The strategy should be planned in such a way that the culture of the community supports its success.

2.5. Permaculture

2.5.1. Understanding the concept of Permaculture

Etymologically the word permaculture was derived from two common English words; perma nent and agri culture combined to mean permaculture, by taking the first five words from permanent and the last seven words from agriculture . It was coined by two Australian men Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s. Integrating lessons from ecology, organic gardening, energy-efficient building and agro-forestry, permaculture[4] principles help people to design rich and sustainable ways of living. What we might usually think of as waste put back into the system, recycling precious resources. Landscapes are designed to conserve water, energy and soil nutrients. The principles and techniques of permaculture are used to design sustainable systems of food production that work with nature for maximum long-term efficiency, mainly promoting home and large scale sustainable agriculture 4

Permaculture is defined as consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for the provision of local needs (Holmgren, 2007).

Mollison (1988) gave an elaborated definition and wrote that permaculture (permanent agriculture) is a conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, sustainability, stability and resilience of natural ecosystem. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable manner.

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies. It is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature. It is a design science that is rooted in the observation of nature. It is a positive, solution-based way of thinking, using a practical set of ecological design principles and methods. (Alderleaf Farm, 2011)

According to Mollison, the founder of the concept permaculture, permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms. It seeks to provide sustainable and secure place for living things on this earth (Mollison, 1988)

Permaculture shows how to observe the dynamics of natural ecosystems. We can apply this knowledge in designing constructed ecosystems that serve the needs of human populations without degrading our natural environment. Permaculture design requires careful observation of the natural cycles, energies and resources on a site, we can design a system that imitates nature and takes on a life of its own. Once the design is implemented on the ground, the system can be largely self-maintaining. It can yield a variety of high quality food, fiber and energy to meet basic human needs and by reconciling life hood and the ecosystem makes livelihood environmentally friendly[5].

Nature works in its own, even more perfect without human intervention. This can shortly expressed as nature’s closed system, for nature’s population meet their needs internally without external intervention. Therefore, learning from nature’s self-regulation, permaculture tries to design a system which is approximately a closed system to meet the needs of nature (including human beings) in a sustainable and undisturbed natural ecosystem (Morrow, 2006).

2.5.2. Ethics and Principles of Permaculture

Permaculture is to large extent concerned with attitudinal change towards the natural ecology, a culture of conserving the natural ecosystem by getting our necessities from and without depleting the system. For this the proponents adopted some ethical grounds of permaculture and the principles to work with permaculture. These ethical grounds and principles of permaculture are discussed below.

Ethics of Permaculture

Permaculture is an ethics-based systems design practice used to form sustainable human settlements that have the same natural resilience as a healthy ecosystem. It works based on the following general ethical grounds[6].

1. Care of Earth: care for living and non-living things, including plants, animals, land, water and air. In other words having an attitude that the earth is the source of living.
2. Care of People: helping each other and ourselves to live sustainably. This includes providing access to resources that are necessary for existence.
3. Fair shares: using the earth’s limited resources in a ways that are equitable and wise.

More important to rural farming, these ethical grounds enable the local culture, relations and knowledge to be more environmentally concerned. That is, it integrates efforts of attaining needs of livelihood ethically built around the ecosystem as the source of sustainable livelihood. The Holmgren Design Service (2007:9) puts this as with its roots in the best of traditional and modern technological design, is more likely to be successful than a pre-designed system introduced from outside. Further, a diversity of such local models would naturally generate innovative elements which can cross fertilize similar innovations elsewhere.

Principles of Permaculture

Permaculture is also based on certain broad and flexible principles. Here below we will see some of the most important principles by David Holmgren in reference to other authors.

The first principle is about observation and interaction. Since the practice of permaculture is based on design, it requires careful observation of the elements of the environment and the landscape in the vicinity. This careful observation enables for a harmonious interaction with nature. Mollison (1988:15) putts the principles as “work with nature, rather than against it. We can assist rather than impede natural elements, forces, pressures, processes, agencies and evolutions”. This is also related to the seventh principle (design from patterns to details) explained by Homlgren Design Service (2007). The design requires consideration of the communality of patterns observable in nature. Pattern recognition is an outcome of the application of principle one: Observe and interact, and is the necessary precursor to the process of design (ibid). In pattern application, permaculture designers are encouraged to develop an awareness of the patterns that exist in nature (and how these function) and how patterns can be utilized to satisfy the specific design needs of a specific site (details)[7].

The second principle states about harvesting resources that enable for maintaining the ecosystem sustainably. This includes dependence on renewable resources than non-renewable resources for livelihood asset formation. This can be seen with the sixth principle (produce no waste) by Homlgren (2007). The use of organic methods for the sustainability of nature and yield is taken as central principle of permaculture. Waste or pollutant is an output of any system component that is not being used productively by any other component of the system. Therefore our practice should not create such kind of wastes which disturb the natural system. Modern technologies like artificial fertilizers and agro-chemical are susceptive of this problem (ibid).

Obtaining the required yield is the other important principle in permaculture (Homlgren Design Service, 2007:12). According to Mollison (1988), a yield, profit or income functions as a reward encourages, maintains and replicates the system that generated the yield. This enables the system to be sustainable and give a yield (livelihood asset) which is sustainable without depleting the natural resources (the ecosystem) rather making it more productive. As Holzer (2010) put it the long term consideration in sustainable farming must be the fertility of the soil and the overall capacity of the farm to provide food and living.



2. Taken from unpublished paper by Mona Haider prepared under United Nations Economic Commission, 2009





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Livelihood-Environment Nexus: The Reconciling Role of Permaculture, Case Study on Konso Woreda of Segen Peoples Zone in SNNPR, Ethiopia
Hawassa University  (School of Law and Governance, Department of Governance and Developemnt Studies)
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For its consideration on new Practice the work was appreciated by both my adviser Dr. Waktole Tiki and The Examiners of the thesis Dr.Shumete Gizaw and Dr.Tedros Tefera. The work is considered as one adding insight for further research on environment and livelihood complex relationship, and the new practice of permaculture as one form of solution to reconcile between the two.
livelihood-environment, nexus, reconciling, role, permaculture, case, study, konso, woreda, segen, peoples, zone, snnpr, ethiopia
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Tariku Sagoya Gashute (Author), 2012, Livelihood-Environment Nexus: The Reconciling Role of Permaculture, Case Study on Konso Woreda of Segen Peoples Zone in SNNPR, Ethiopia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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