The Livelihood Economy
Dev Raj Dahal
Livelihood means securing the vital supplies of life. Its reimagining can succeed in Nepal if critical minimum resources become a non-negotiable programme. It fulfills their biological needs of 1,500-2,000 calorie per day to survive and grow, psychological wellbeing, constitutional rights to freedom and dignity and moral desire to collaborate with other humans and nations. The crisis of livelihood such as food, clothing and shelter is fed more by humans than nature. The core fight in Nepal now pivots between the needs of people to extend lifespan and tacit reason of elites to justify their privileges on the toil of others.
The congruity of public institutions with livelihood is, therefore, essential. The mega earthquake of Nepal stoked huge welfare loss. It impoverished about one million people, adding 4 per cent more into the national pocket of 24 per cent already in dire misery. Inter-generational lack of basic needs, policy amnesia, rough landscape, malfunction of regime, lower social and gender status of certain groups and predatory practices converted food surplus Nepal into a food importing one. Average people survive with about $2 daily income. It lingers cherished ideal of fulfilling life’s alluring.
In an informal economy like Nepal nurturing livelihood beyond minimum monthly wage of $112 is vital to make decent jobs. To bounce people out of livelihood crisis it has espoused social inclusion, quota and affirmative action for various people and granted rights to work, food, education, health, etc. for all. Modern society has freed people from the nature’s tutelage and even enabled them to dominate it. Yet, they are unfree from each other’s control battering the quality of life. Education, technology and opportunity, the modern engines of progress, can lift them from vegetative order and ease the pain of daily survival.
Their full citizenship, however, entails curbing the flow as migrant labour abroad to civic engagement at home though the remittance they fetch is the lifeblood of Nepali economy. Similar salary to them at home can reduce migration, reap the benefits of bulging youth populace of demographic dividends and live a decent life. Boosting the backward and forward linkage of Nepali economy can feed its social tissues and diversify livelihood means offered by topographic richness. Ordinary Nepalis have showed a unity in diversity in crisis times and laced a tapestry of warm national community. Socialisation of elites from the government, political parties, business and civil society on common civic duty can shape politics of common good, forge solidarity, shun brain drain and tend sensibility to the destitute.
Livelihood guarantee is the mark of a healthy society. The clashing policies of creative destruction and destructive creation experimented in Nepal exposed people to a new age of vicious cycle which seized the autonomy and capacity of public institutions and public admin to deliver livelihood supplies and the regime to clientalised path. Ironically, this regime’s focus more on the return of the financial capital than labour fulfilled neither body, nor soul, not even hands of solidarity for virtual cycle of progress. Macro-stability of top leaders now insulated from each other and popular feedback. It endured huge social vices animating micro-changing intermediary elites’ self-love.
Nepali state entails whetting the middle path for resilient rebuilding of crippled life and infrastructures and recovery of society and economy from eternal agitation. A project of modernity under Nepali state’s leadership holds the capacity of cooperative action of diverse actors for the promotion of livelihood. It entails cultural awareness of communities’ life and the realisation of their cognitive needs. Age-suitable education and skills are keys to civic engagement of Nepalis and make all their rights enforceable. The realisation of livelihood in the sphere of productive growth and distribution of economy can haul up them to higher order of civil society and widen the ecological commons beyond the comfort of elites.
Modern economic strategies of progress are scientific skills and capability. Yet, those working on livelihoods see it in the optimal use of natural resources and management of scarcity emanating from uncertainty of weather, technology, globalisation, monopoly, cartel and syndicate. Others see livelihood strategy in terms of equal consideration of needs of all to improve their life prospect, standardise infrastructures and harness social and cultural resilience of Nepali communities. Boom of self-organising federations-NGOs, professional groups, local government, community forestry, cooperatives, irrigation and workers is driving Nepal’s swing from hereditary community to self-chosen society. But the partisan splitting up of their members has created walls to civic habits and work bound by the feeling of social spirit and social contract. Ordinary Nepalis need to be pulled out to a new welfare vision which can underline collective purpose, not separate lives, which is corrosive of livelihood strategy. Some crucial steps are:
Context Sensitivity: The factors of vulnerability and poverty in Nepal can be seen at many levels: individuals and their situation, the national site and the global one. Cooperation at multi-level governance is critical to cut the causes of poverty, inequality and prejudice and step up adaptive measures for social and economic changes at the individual, community, organisational and policy levels. Moving beyond narrow corporate interests Nepali leaders need to fulfill their promises to the needy. It enables them to bounce back after scarcity, disruptions of quake, landslides, floods, fire, strikes and other calamities. But without breaking the stable political stasis they can hardly do historic act by elevating those silenced by misery and provide the people sense of ownership over this nation enabling them to engage in public sphere.
Knowledge: Reflective knowledge about the condition of life helps organise right vision, laws and policies to improve it. It gives an awareness of interconnection of life with nature and culture. Nepal’s future depends on creating a caring society where life is valued more than money and safety, prosperity and quality of life are secured for all natives. An exclusively money-driven economy rooted in greed can easily erode the living wealth of society and discount non-economic public goods-public security, rule of law, education, health and nature which are vital to stable progress. This awareness is a key to become self-governing citizens of Nepali state and claim universal basic services without which freedom amounts to nothing. Mindful living is the sign of healthy basis of security, wellbeing and social peace. It helps to overcome structure-bound character of Nepali economy and animates livelihood of this rich poly-cultural nation
Investment: Investments in vital means of production - lands, improved seeds and cattle, fertilizer, food, housing, energy, fresh water, vocational education, health, infrastructures and communication can foster real economy and rear sustainable livelihoods. By building assets, Nepalis can renew their capacity to cope with the stress and scarcities and realise material needs. Governance actors must supply a variety of goods, public and private, through the principle of subsidiarity and contribute to inclusive transformation so that causes of wretchedness are resolved. Corporate social responsibility and tax breaks for genuine civil society, community institutions and humanitarian NGOs doing charity works and adoption of inclusive and decentralised projects can reach to the affected people. Egalitarian societies are more resilient and cooperative than hierarchic ones. This requires rational social change without draining its public spirit and positive spiritual roots through social engineering and cultural transformation.
Engagement: Secure livelihood in Nepal needs creative strategies that community can pursue in their social progress- poverty alleviation, income, gender equality, social security and social cohesion. Pro-active engagement of local leaders with workers, peasants, poor, Dalits and women in economic plan cycle can unlock social energy, civic muscle, trust and heave livelihoods. The governance actors have to add advocacy, practical education, jobs, enterprise, cooperatives, saving and credit financing, commodity exchange and small scale-projects raising local skills, technology, alternative energy and institutions to which even the poor get access. Their integrity and efficacy make positive economic change. Building cohesive communities out of social diversity call for engaging the deprived Nepalis in the joint economic projects, their maintenance and monitoring of social projects- human rights, social justice, social security and social protection.
Capacity building of Nepalis can provide them adaptive skill to survive uncertainty, acquit from necessity and pursue a worthy aspiration of a life of choice. Expansion of labour market and work, cash or resources transfer, even contributory nature of social security are fine steps to restore a life of dignity. Livelihood means are linked to good governance. It stops the spread of disarray and attains equity goals. Livelihood project in Nepal cannot become seductive if its rhythm can tie each generation, classes and gender to the next by uniting the fortune of the rich to the fate of the poor on a common destiny. It is attainable if Nepali polity is in firmer traction of social contract and address condition of injustice whereby people become not only the takers, but shapers of vital decisions and public actions.