1.8. ‘There is No Price’: The Entanglement of Livelihoods, Markets, and Nature

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Timo Kaartinen (University of Helsinki)


This paper follows the recent history of the sustainable livelihoods discourse in West Kalimantan. In this area, sustainable livelihoods have been promoted as a way of reducing forest degradation by local agricultural practices. At the same time, expanding oil palm estates threaten the environment on a much larger scale. As the sustainable livelihoods approach struggles to present a credible alternative to estate economies, its emphasis is shifting from nature conservation to intensified land use with the effect that livelihoods are increasingly defined as part of the economic domain. The question addressed in the paper is what concrete meanings people ascribe to the concept: when and how do various crop collecting, planting, harvesting, and processing activities acquire an abstract value as environmental services or market production? When the connection between livelihoods and markets is intermittent or weak, economic incentives have little effect on sustainable land use. At the same time, specific crops and landscapes constitute a powerful imagery of such abstractions as markets, resources, and nature. Sustainable livelihoods programs encourage people to imagine new possibilities of participating in large-scale economic, social and technological systems and to modify and transform their physical landscape into an expression of these systems. The question raised by the resulting overlap of lived environments and technological natures is when and how policies aimed at sustainability accommodate or conflict with local environmental concepts and forms of life.

Keywords: conservation, estate agriculture, landscapes, money, value