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Can income diversification resolve social-ecological traps in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture in the global south? A case study of response diversity in the Tam Giang lagoon, central Vietnam

Tong Thi Hai Hanh, Department of Earth Sciences, Program for Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Uppsala University, Sweden
Wiebren J Boonstra, Stockholm Resilience Centre; Department of Earth Sciences, Program for Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Uppsala University, Sweden


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Small-scale fishers and aquaculturists in the global south often face reinforcing feedbacks between resource degradation and livelihood impoverishment, a situation conceptualized as a social-ecological trap. It is argued that these traps can be overcome through income diversification, i.e., livelihoods that are maintained from variable income sources. Our aim was to further scrutinize that claim using the concept of response diversity. To do so, we applied the concept and analyzed income diversification in the Tam Giang lagoon, central Vietnam. Based on our analysis, we argue that high diversity in income activities does not necessarily lead to an escape from social-ecological traps. Although diversity in income activities in the case of the Tam Giang lagoon is relatively high, fisheries- and aquaculture-related income activities continue to dominate livelihood portfolios. The various gear and structures that these activities include all exploit the same ecologies, habitats, and niches of the lagoon. This finding triggers questions concerning the relative contribution of income activities to household income, but also how activities are (differently) connected to natural environments. Income diversification can only sustain natural resources and improve human well-being if it truly transforms livelihoods by connecting local users in new ways to ecologies and societies.

Key words

global south; income diversification; response diversity; small-scale aquaculture; small-scale fisheries; social-ecological traps; Tam Giang lagoon

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes 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