Towards capturing human well-being-nature relationships in poverty assessments in rural Malawi and Rwanda

Marije Schaafsma*, Nicole Gross-Camp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Despite repeated emphasis on the links between the natural environment and human well-being and the disproportionate and direct dependence of the rural poor on natural resources, these links have not been well addressed in poverty assessments. Common poverty profiles neither reflect the contribution of nature to wellbeing nor the multiple values and meanings that people ascribe to nature. Building on a conceptual grounding for including environmental components in well-being measures, our work aimed to determine for which components it is legitimate to do so according to the people whose well-being is measured. We developed a focus group discussion protocol to elicit perceptions of environment-well-being relationships in rural settings in Rwanda and Malawi. The protocol included a well-being free-listing exercise, a matching exercise linking the listed items to predefined wellbeing dimensions, and a discussion of environment-well-being connections. We found that severe environmental degradation, hazards, and conflicts over access to land and forests in these diverse rural areas are deeply and directly linked to well-being. Environmental changes such as flooding or extended drought led to losses of income, crops, and assets, as well as prolonged periods of psychological stress, constrained freedom of choice, and in extreme cases, death. Our results suggest that some environmental components are constituent to well-being. We emphasise the importance of validating the precise environmental components that are considered relevant to well-being in different contexts. Extending poverty measurement with relevant environmental components can help in targeting action towards reducing poverty in a more legitimate, context-specific way.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1425104
JournalCase Studies in the Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was funded by grant IAF-2017-18-002 of the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme. The ESPA programme is funded by the Department for International Development, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the Natural Environment Research Council. Additional funding was received from the UNEP-UNDP Poverty-Environment Initiative Malawi.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Poverty indicator
  • Quality of life
  • Rural poverty
  • Sub-Saharan Africa


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