The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management

Applying the sustainable livelihoods approach in Australian desert Aboriginal development

Jocelyn Davies A D , Janelle White B , Alyson Wright C , Yiheyis Maru A and Michael LaFlamme A

A CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, PO Box 2111, Alice Springs, NT 0871, Australia.

B Centre for Rural Health and Community Development, University of South Australia, Nicolson Avenue, Whyalla Norrie, SA 5608, Australia.

C Centre for Appropriate Technology, 32 Priest St, Alice Springs, NT 0870, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

The Rangeland Journal 30(1) 55-65
Submitted: 8 June 2007  Accepted: 27 November 2007   Published: 1 April 2008


The sustainable livelihoods approach is widely used in rural development internationally but has been little applied in Australia. It is a framework for thinking and communicating about factors that impact on the livelihoods of individuals and families including their health, well being and income and the maintenance of natural resource condition. The approach aims to promote a systemic understanding of how multiple variables impact on local people’s livelihoods. Three case studies are outlined, that highlight its potential as a tool for collaborative engagement of researchers, local people and other stakeholders, to promote sustainability of Aboriginal livelihood systems in remote desert Australia and to contribute to improved understanding of the dynamics of regional socio-ecological systems.

Additional keywords: assets, disadvantage, indigenous, institutions, native food, vulnerability.


Ah Mat R. (2003). The moral case for Indigenous capitalism. Paper presented at AIATSIS Native Title Conference: Native title on the Ground. Alice Springs, NT. 3–5 June 2003. Available at: (accessed 20 November2007).

Al-Yaman F. , Van Doeland M. , and Wallis M. (2006). ‘Family violence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.’ (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Canberra.)

Alexandridis K. , and Measham T. (2007). Modelling Regional Grazing Viability in Outback Australia Using Bayesian Livelihood Networks. Technical Report. CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Canberra. Available at: (accessed 25 November 2007).

Altman J. C. , Buchanan G. J. , and Larsen L. (2007). ‘The environmental significance of the Indigenous estate: natural resource management as economic development in remote Australia.’ CAEPR Discussion Paper No. 286/2007. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Canberra.

Arce A. 2003 Value contestations in development interventions: community development and sustainable livelihood approaches. Community Development Journal 38 199 212 doi:10.1093/cdj/38.3.199

Austin-Broos D. 2006 ‘Working for’ and ‘working’ among Western Arrernte in Central Australia. Oceania 76 1 15

AWS (Australian Wildlife Services) (2005). ‘APY Regional Wildlife Management Plan. Draft Report to Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Council.’ (Australian Wildlife Services: Canberra.) Available at: (accessed 20 May 2007)

Batterbury S. Forsyth T. 1999 Fighting back: human adaptations in marginal environments. Environment 41 25 30

Bebbington A. 1999 Capitals and capabilities: a framework for analyzing peasant viability, rural livelihoods and poverty. World Development 27 2021 2044

Bebbington A. 2000 Reencountering development: livelihood transitions and place transformations in the Andes. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90 495 520 doi:10.1111/0004-5608.00206

Bebbington A. J. Batterbury S. P. J. 2001 Transnational livelihoods and landscapes: political ecologies of globalisation. Ecumene 8 369 380 doi:10.1191/096746001701557084

Belcher B. , and Ruiz Pérez M. (2001). An international comparison of cases of forest product development: overview, description and data requirements. CIFOR Working Paper No. 23. Center for International Forestry Research, Bogor.

Berkes F. , and Folke C. (1998). ‘Linking social and ecological systems. Management practices and social mechanisms for building resilience.’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

Bird Rose D. (2005). Indigenous water philosophy in an uncertain land. In: ‘From Disaster Response to Risk Mitigation’. (Eds L. C. Botterill and D. Wilhite.) pp. 37–50. (Springer: The Netherlands.)

Brocklesby M. A. Fisher E. 2003 Community development in sustainable livelihoods approaches – an introduction. Community Development Journal 38 185 198 doi:10.1093/cdj/38.3.185

Brown D. Taylor J. Bell M. 2008 The demography of desert Australia. The Rangeland Journal 30 29 43

Burgess C. P. Johnston F. H. Bowman D. M. J. S. Whitehead P. J. 2005 Healthy country: healthy people? Exploring the health benefits of Indigenous natural resource management. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 29 117 122

Cahn M. (2002). Sustainable livelihoods approach: concept and practice. Paper presented at 3rd Biennial Conference of the International Development Studies Network of Aotearoa New Zealand, Massey University, New Zealand, 5–7 December 2002. Available at: (accessed 15 August 2006)

Campbell D. , Davies J. , and Wakerman J. (2007). Realising economies in the joint supply of health and environmental services in Aboriginal central Australia. DKCRC Working Paper No. 11, Desert Knowledge CRC, Alice Springs, NT. Available at: (accessed 30 December 2007).

Cass A. Cunningham J. Snelling P. Wang Z. Hoy W. 2004 Exploring the pathways leading from disadvantage to end-stage renal disease for Indigenous Australians. Social Science and Medicine 58 767 785 doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(03)00243-0

CAT (Centre for Appropriate Technology). ‘The Livelihoods Opportunity.’ (Centre for Appropriate Technology: Alice Springs, NT.)

Chambers R. (1987). ‘Sustainable Livelihoods: a Strategy for People, Environment and Development.’ (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex: Sussex.)

Chambers R. , and Conway G. (1992). ‘Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st Century.’ (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex: Sussex.)

Charles River Analytics Inc. (2004). ‘About Bayesian Belief Networks.’ Available at: (accessed 10 July 2007)

CSIRO, and Australian Bureau of Meteorology. (2007). Climate change in Australia. Technical report 2007. CSIRO, Canberra. Available at: (accessed 16 November 2007)

de Haan L. J. 2000 The question of development and environment in geography in the era of globalisation. GeoJournal 50 359 367 doi:10.1023/A:1010897626539

Ellis F. (2000). ‘Rural Livelihoods and Diversity in Developing Countries.’ (Oxford University Press: Oxford.)

Escobar A. 2001 Culture sits in places: reflections on globalism and subaltern strategies of localization. Political Geography 20 139 174 doi:10.1016/S0962-6298(00)00064-0

Farrington J. 2001 Sustainable livelihoods, rights and the new architecture of aid. Natural Resource Perspectives 69 1 4

Fisher S. 2002 The sustainable livelihoods approach: a path well travelled. Our Place 19 16 17

Folds R. (2000). ‘Crossed Purposes: the Pintupi and Australia’s Indigenous Policy.’ (UNSW Press: Sydney.)

Gerritsen R. , and Straton A. T. (2006). Coping with a tragedy of the Australian Aboriginal common. In: ‘Adapting Rules for Sustainable Resource Use.’ (Eds A. Smajgl and S. Larson.) pp. 173–187. (CSIRO: Townsville.)

Gilmore T. Krantz J. Ramirez R. 1986 Action based modes of inquiry and the host-researcher relationship. Consultation 5 160 176

Gould R. A. (1982). To have and have not: the ecology of sharing among hunter-gatherers. In: ‘Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter Gatherers’. (Eds N. M. Williams and E. S. Hunn.) pp. 69–91. (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra.)

Graham C. , and Hart D. (1997). ‘Prospects for the Australian Native Bushfood Industry.’ (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation: Canberra.)

Hussein K. (2002). ‘Livelihoods Approaches Compared: a multi-agency Review of Current Practice.’ (UK DFID: London.)

LaFlamme M. (2007). Developing a shared model for sustainable Aboriginal livelihoods in natural-cultural resource management. In: ‘Land, Water and Environmental Management: Integrated Systems for Sustainability. MODSIM 2007 International Congress on Modelling and Simulation’. (Eds L. Oxley and D. Kulasiri.) pp. 288–294. (Modelling and Simulation Society of Australian and New Zealand: Christchurch.) Available at: (Accessed 19 March 2008)

Latz P. (1995). ‘Bushfires and Bushtucker: Aboriginal Plant Use in Central Australia.’ (IAD Press: Alice Springs, NT.)

Long S. , and Memmott P. (2007). Aboriginal mobility and the sustainability of communities. Case studies from north-west Queensland and eastern Northern Territory. DKCRC Working Paper No. 5. Desert Knowledge CRC, Alice Springs, NT. Available at: (accessed 25 November 2007).

Lovell C. Mandondo A. Moriarty P. 2002 The question of scale in integrated natural resource management. Conservation Ecology 5 25

Maru Y. T. Woodford K. 2005 A resources and shaping forces model for community-based sustainable development. Community Development Journal

Measham T. , Maru Y. , and Murray-Prior R. (2006). Outback livelihoods: defining and linking social and economic issues affecting the health and viability of outback regions. DKCRC Working Paper No. 6. Desert Knowledge CRC, Alice Springs, NT. Available at: (accessed 25 September 2007).

Mitchell J. , Pearce R. , Stevens M. , Taylor J. , and Warchivker I. (2005). ‘Indigenous Populations and Resource Flows in Central Australia: a Social and Economic Baseline Profile.’ (Centre for Remote Health and Desert Knowledge CRC: Alice Springs, NT.)

Moran M. , Wright A. , Renehan P. , Szava A. , Rich E. , and Beard N. (2007). The transformation of assets for sustainable livelihoods in a remote Aboriginal settlement. DKCRC Research Report No. 28. Desert Knowledge CRC, Alice Springs, NT. Forthcoming at:

MTF (Ministerial Task Force on Indigenous Affairs) (2004). ‘Charter. The Hon. Mal Brough MP, Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs.’ (Australian Government: Canberra.) Available at: (accessed 10 May 2007).

Murray C. 2002 Livelihoods research: transcending boundaries of time and space. Journal of Southern African Studies 28 489 509 doi:10.1080/0305707022000006486

Nagy L. (1999). ‘Improving Access to Bushfood Production and Marketing Information.’ (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation: Canberra.)

NTG (Northern Territory Government) (2003). ‘Anmatjere: a Ten-year (2002–2012) Regional Development Plan.’ (Northern Territory Government: Darwin.)

Ostrom E. (2005). ‘Understanding Institutional Diversity.’ (Princeton University Press: Princeton.)

Peterson N. (2005). What can the pre-colonial and frontier economies tell us about engagement with the real economy? Indigenous life projects and the conditions for development. In: ‘Culture, Economy and Governance in Aboriginal Australia’. (Eds D. Austin-Broos and G. Macdonald.) pp. 7–17. (Sydney University Press: Sydney.)

Porritt J. (2005). ‘Capitalism as if the World Matters.’ (Forum for the Future: London.)

Rennie J. K. , and Singh N. C. (1996). ‘Participatory Research for Sustainable Livelihoods: a Guidebook for Field Projects.’ (International Institute for Sustainable Development: Winnipeg.)

Reynolds J. F. Stafford Smith D. M. Lambin E. F. Turner B. L. Mortimore M. et al. 2007 Global desertification: building a science for dryland development. Science 316 847 851 doi:10.1126/science.1131634

Ryder M. , and Latham Y. (2005). ‘Cultivation of Native Food Plants in South-eastern Australia.’ (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation: Canberra.)

Scoones I. (1998). ‘Sustainable Rural Livelihoods. A Framework for Analysis.’ (IDS: Brighton.)

Scrimgeour D. 2007 Town or country: which is best for Australia’s Indigenous peoples? The Medical Journal of Australia 186 532 533

Sen A. (1983). ‘Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation.’ (Oxford University Press: Oxford.)

Singh N. Gilman J. 1999 Making livelihoods more sustainable. International Social Science Journal 51 539 545

Stafford Smith M. 2008 The ‘desert syndrome’ – causally-linked factors that characterise outback Australia. The Rangeland Journal 30 3 14

Stafford Smith M. , Walker D. , Maru Y. , Stoeckl N. , Herr A. , Breen J. , and Greiner R. (2003). Options for understanding regional dynamics in northern Australia. Tropical Savannas CRC Project Report, CSIRO, Alice Springs, NT.

Sutton P. 2001 The politics of suffering: Indigenous policy in Australia since the 1970s. Anthropological Forum 11 125 173

Throsby D. 1999 Cultural capital. Journal of Cultural Economics 23 3 12 doi:10.1023/A:1007543313370

UK DFID (United Kingdom Department for International Development) (1999–2001). ‘Sustainable Livelihoods Guidance Sheets.’ (UK DFID Department for International Development: London.) Available at: (accessed 5 April 2007)

UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) (2006). Global deserts outlook. Available at: (accessed 25 November 2007).

WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development) (1987). ‘Food 2000: Global policies for sustainable agriculture. A report of the Advisory Panel on Food Security, Agriculture, Forestry and Environment to the World Commission on Environment and Development.’ (Zed Books Ltd.: London and New Jersey.)

Wild R. , and Anderson P. (2007). Ampe akelyernemane meke mekarle: little children are sacred. Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse. Available at: (accessed 16 November 2007).

Wolfe J. (1993). ‘Who’s Planning, Whose Plans? The DEET-ATSIC Aboriginal Community Development Planning Pilot Scheme.’ (North Australia Research Unit: Darwin.)

Export Citation Cited By (38)