The sustainable livelihood framework is a widely used approach to analyze changes in rural livelihoods, especially in resource dependent communities. The framework emphasizes that given a certain situation where the livelihood context, resources and institutions remain favourable, livelihood strategies carried out by people could possibly lead to two different outcomes. One, the results of livelihood strategies will produce sustainable outcomes providing affected households respite from the impacts of livelihood loss. Two, there is a possibility that resulting outcomes may not be sufficient to reverse livelihood crisis and may not necessarily result in sustainable livelihood because of the complexities, uncertainties and multilevel drivers associated with it. This paper aims to evaluate both these possibilities through use of empirical data to clarify factors and conditions that may impede sustainable livelihood outcomes despite well planned strategies. It highlights that availability of more resources (or capitals) do not necessarily contribute to more robust livelihood strategies or outcomes. Using the case of small scale fishery-based livelihood system of Chilika Lagoon, Bay of Bengal in the East coast of India, this paper suggests that the relationship between livelihood shocks and stresses, capitals, institutions and livelihood strategies is circular and not linear.
Extensive household and village level survey data are used to examine the processes of social-ecological change in Chilika from a livelihood perspective. It describes how through changes in context, resources and institutions, fishers in Chilika responded to the livelihood crisis, and how various strategies were used. It further examines the extent to which the outcomes of the strategies contributed to making fisher livelihoods sustainable. Conclusions drawn suggest that the outcomes of the livelihood crisis and responses from Chilika fishers have resulted in higher levels of their disconnection from the Lagoon and their marginalization. The multiplicity of ways through which fishers in Chilika perceive their livelihood suggest that livelihood in resource dependent communities, such as Chilika small-scale fisheries, is multidimensional and far more complex and dynamic than often perceived. Further innovations in approaches and tools will help better understand livelihood challenges and make related outcomes sustainable.