SPERI use the term ‘livelihood’ with respect the goal of indigenous and ethnic minority peoples in the Mekong region of achieving “Livelihood Sovereignty”. Following the aspirations of the indigenous and ethnic minority peoples, SPERI has defined Livelihood Sovereignty as the achievements of five livelihood rights
From its beginning, SPERI’s development approach has been deeply anthropological. Working the areas of land rights, community development and customary law, SPERI has treated ethnic minority peoples as the experts from whom they seek to learn. SPERI staff has lived with ethnic minority communities for months at a time to learn their language, cultures and spiritual values.
Through recognizing the interaction of value systems, customary laws and daily behaviour toward natural resource management, SPERI has defined the system of agriculture of the indigenous people as Eco-Farming – a system of agriculture that differs from ‘organic’ or ‘sustainable’ farming in its ethical and philosophical characteristics framed by the ‘worship of nature’. Anthropological insight into the relations between traditional values and community governing of natural resources also lie behind SPERI’s work in promoting Customary-Based Natural Resource Management, a form of decentralized land management that recognises traditional customary laws, local knowledge, and clan ownership. Work in this area has given rise to innovative Land Conflict Resolution practices based on the system of voluntary settlements encouraged by inspirational spiritual leaders as opposed to the involuntary system of punishment imposed by state law.
Recently SPERI has been involved in promoting participatory research into ethnobotany to record indigenous uses of local herbs for food and medicine and customary practices for bio-diversity conservation. All of these interrelated areas of activity – indigenous land rights, spirit beliefs, customary law, ethnic and indigenous identity, grassroots democratization, indigenous knowledge, and bottom-up participatory research and development – are of central importance to contemporary anthropology.