Ecosystems provide the foundation for all human survival, since they produce the food, air, soil, and other material supports for life. Everyone, rich and poor, urban and rural, depends on the goods and services that ecosystems provide.
But the rural poor have a unique and special relationship with ecosystems that revolves around the importance of these natural systems to rural livelihoods. By livelihoods, we mean the whole complex of factors that allow families to sustain themselves materially, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Central to this is income, whether in the form of cash, or in the form of natural products directly consumed for subsistence, such as fish, fuel, or building materials.
As this chapter will show, the rural poor derive a significant fraction of their total income from ecosystem goods and services. We refer to such nature-based income as environmental income. Because of their dependence on environmental income, the poor are especially vulnerable to ecosystem degradation.
Of course, environmental income is not the only important component in rural livelihoods. A poor family