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An integrated livelihoods and well-being framework to understand northeastern Colorado ranchers' adaptive strategies

Jasmine E. Bruno, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
Maria E. Fernandez-Gimenez, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
Meena M. Balgopal, Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA


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As rangeland-based livestock systems experience social and ecological change, producers make increasingly complex livelihood decisions for improved or sustained well-being. Understanding these decisions requires more holistic frameworks that capture livelihood decision-making pathways and associated human well-being outcomes so that support systems reflect producers’ needs. Here, we present the empirical foundation for an integrated livelihoods and well-being framework with the potential to address these gaps in the theory and practice of rangeland sustainability. We applied an iterative methodology using both inductive and deductive coding to analyze participant observation and semi-structured interviews with 32 rangeland-based livestock producers in northeastern Colorado, U.S. In our inductive coding, seven factors emerged as inputs for producers’ livelihood strategies: financial (e.g., income), natural (e.g., land), social (e.g., community), human (e.g., labor), physical (e.g., infrastructure), political (e.g., access to policy makers), and cultural (e.g., way of life). Livestock producers described a dynamic process of interrelating these input factors to develop three primary livelihood strategies to avoid migration out of agriculture: contraction, expansion, and diversification of their operations. Through these livelihood strategies, producers increase or maintain their material (i.e., “what you have”), relational (i.e., “what you can do with what you have”), and subjective (i.e., “how you feel”) well-being. Our results show that producers vary in access to cultural and political factors and emphasize the ubiquitous role of diversification as a livelihood strategy. Livestock producers’ varying decision-making approaches emphasize the need for outreach and extension grounded in producers’ lived experiences. This study offers a framework that researchers can use to integrate the emotional sphere into a social-ecological system framing (i.e., social-ecological-emotional systems). Moreover, practitioners can apply this framework to design human-centered support systems for livestock producers in the western U.S. and beyond.

Key words

agriculture; culture; grounded theory; ranching; rangelands; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087