Resistance and Resilience in Agroecosystems

Module Progress:

In the past Lessons, you’ve learned about different practices that are creating weaknesses in the global food system, and in this Lesson you’ve been exploring the concepts of an agroecosystem using the lens of ecology. In this module, you’ll look both at what makes agroecological systems weak but also how they can be designed to be resilient, adaptive and even help us resist problems facing our world, such as climate change.  You’ll read an excerpt from a didactic toolkit to give you an overview of basic concepts related to resilient farming systems, then hear about how agroecologiical approaches in tandem with reducing social vulnerability creates resilient community-based food systems.

Excerpt 1: Some Basic Principles and Concepts

By Miguel Altieri et. al | Didactic Toolkit for the design, management and assessment of resilient farming systems

Click here to read full article

Excerpt 2: Agro-ecological approaches to enhance resilience to climate change

By Clara I. Nichols and Miguel A Altieri | Farming Matters, 2012


Of particular relevance, pay attention to the last section which describes how resilience can be part of resistance:

Adding social resilience

More diverse plant communities are more resistant to disturbance and more resilient to environmental perturbations derived from extreme climatic events. Undoubtedly, crop diversification represents a viable long-term strategy for farmers experiencing erratic weather. The use of diversification within agricultural production systems can significantly reduce their vulnerability and protect their livelihoods. Farmers that use diversity as a crop management strategy usually add copious amounts of organic matter into their soils, further increasing water retention capacity. Managing cover crops and green manures improves the soil cover, protecting the soil from erosion, but also adds biomass, which in turn contributes to increased levels of SOM.

Such strategies to enhance the ecological resilience of farming systems are essential, but in themselves are not enough to achieve sustainability. Social resilience, defined as the ability of groups or communities to adapt to external social, political, or environmental stresses, must go hand in hand with ecological resilience. To be resilient, rural societies must have the ability to buffer disturbance with agro-ecological methods adopted and disseminated through self-organisation and collective action (Tompkins and Adger, 2004). Reducing social vulnerability through the extension and consolidation of social networks, both locally and at regional scales, can further increase the resilience of agro-ecosystems. The vulnerability of farming communities depends on the development of the natural and social capital that gives farmers and their systems resilience against climatic (and other) shocks. This adaptive capacity resides in a set of social and agro-ecological conditions that influence the ability of individuals or groups, and their farms, to respond to climate change in a resilient manner. This capacity to respond to changes in environmental conditions exists to different degrees within communities but the responses are not always sustainable. The challenge is to identify the responses that are sustainable and to upscale them, enhancing the reactive capacity of communities to deploy agro-ecological mechanisms that allow farmers to resist and recover from climatic events and reducing their vulnerability. Social organisation strategies (solidarity networks, exchange of food, etc.) used by farmers to cope with the difficult circumstances imposed by such events, are thus a key component of resilience.