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 well-being 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 well-being 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.

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