Judging the effectiveness of alternative livelihoods projects

Do alternative livelihoods projects work to protect, maintain or even improve biodiversity? What has worked, what hasn’t worked and why? This project aims to answer some of those questions by analysing the evidence.

2013 - ongoing
Francesca Booker

Researcher (biodiversity), Natural Resources

Conservation, communities and equity
A programme of work showing how IIED is building capacity to understand and implement equitable conservation and enhance community voice in conservation policymaking
A beekeeper in Guatemala finds an alternative source of income. Photo: Todd Post/Bread for the World Institute

A beekeeper in Guatemala finds an alternative source of income (Photo: Todd Post/Bread for the World Institute)

Alternative livelihoods projects are a common conservation intervention. They are designed to conserve biodiversity by substituting one livelihood activity that is causing harm to a species or habitat (such as bushmeat hunting or firewood collection) with another activity, or resource, that will cause less harm. Although its primary outcome is to alleviate threats to biodiversity, a strong secondary outcome is to improve the wellbeing of certain targeted groups of people.

The donor community has invested in alternative livelihoods activities for decades as a means of linking conservation and development. Yet very little is known about what has worked, what has not worked and why.

The evidence base on alternative livelihoods is scattered, partial, and found across multiple institutions and geographies. Studies have used diverse, and sometimes scientifically weak, methods and metrics resulting in inconclusive evidence. This lack of evidence was highlighted at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2012 which passed Motion 145 calling for “best practice guidelines for alternative livelihood projects to ensure sustainable benefits to species, ecosystems and people.”

The goal of this project is to conduct an overview of the state of the evidence base shared in existing publications and reports. The overview will illuminate the strengths, weaknesses and prevailing knowledge gaps in that research. The project seeks to address the question: Are alternative livelihood projects effective at reducing local threats to biodiversity and/or improving or maintaining specific elements of biodiversity that the project aims to protect? It will do this through a systematic review of the existing literature on these issues.