Application of Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping in Livelihood Vulnerability Analysis

C. Murungweni, M.T. van Wijk, J.A. Andersson, E.M.A. Smaling, K.E. Giller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Feedback mechanisms are important in the analysis of vulnerability and resilience of social-ecological systems, as well as in the analysis of livelihoods, but how to evaluate systems with direct feedbacks has been a great challenge. We applied fuzzy cognitive mapping, a tool that allows analysis of both direct and indirect feedbacks and can be used to explore the vulnerabilities of livelihoods to identified hazards. We studied characteristics and drivers of rural livelihoods in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area in southern Africa to assess the vulnerability of inhabitants to the different hazards they face. The process involved four steps: (1) surveys and interviews to identify the major livelihood types; (2) description of specific livelihood types in a system format using fuzzy cognitive maps (FCMs), a semi-quantitative tool that models systems based on people’s knowledge; (3) linking variables and drivers in FCMs by attaching weights; and (4) defining and applying scenarios to visualize the effects of drought and changing park boundaries on cash and household food security. FCMs successfully gave information concerning the nature (increase or decrease) and magnitude by which a livelihood system changed under different scenarios. However, they did not explain the recovery path in relation to time and pattern (e.g., how long it takes for cattle to return to desired numbers after a drought). Using FCMs revealed that issues of policy, such as changing situations at borders, can strongly aggravate effects of climate change such as drought. FCMs revealed hidden knowledge and gave insights that improved the understanding of the complexity of livelihood systems in a way that is better appreciated by stakeholders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • global environmental-change
  • bayesian belief networks
  • climate-change
  • food systems
  • models
  • resilience
  • maps
  • simulation
  • management
  • framework


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