Strength in diversity

01 November 2010 | News story

In Kudawa, a fishing village near the Kalpitiya peninsula in northwestern Sri Lanka, local people rely heavily on the Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary, an area of rich biodiversity that suffers from over-fishing and illegal exploitation. They are starting to look at how to diversify their livelihoods in the face of climate change that is creating an uncertain future for all.

The reef system suffered from mass coral bleaching in 1998 and remains vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Arrangements are being made by the authorities to demarcate the core area of the Marine Sanctuary with the agreement of the local community. While, in the longer term, this will help sustain livelihoods that depend on natural resources, reduced access to the reef’s natural resources will in the shorter term pose a challenge for the community.

Sustainable Livelihoods Enhancement and Diversification (SLED) is a tool developed by IUCN and partners that helps communities who depend on climate change-sensitive resources to adapt to an uncertain future by allowing them to make informed choices about their livelihood options. The SLED tool was applied in Kudawa, in partnership with local organizations and the NGO Community Help Foundation through a combination of field work and community workshops.

Micro projects were piloted that focused on using local resources in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. For example, there has been a shift from fishing and sea cucumber collection, to more diverse activities such as seaweed and sea bass farming and the improvement of home gardens.

Using SLED has helped community members in Kudawa see the importance of diversifying their livelihood options, both to cope with current pressures and to increase their capacity to adapt to future change.

Based on the success of this pilot study, a new institution, The Marine and Coastal Resource Conservation Foundation (MCRCF) has been established to apply the SLED approach to other coastal villages in Sri Lanka.

The main lesson to emerge is that livelihood enhancement and diversification can encourage people to move away from unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and increase their resilience to climate change.