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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

On resilience

The question, whether there is a minimum time frame in which an individual, community or system should remain resilient to qualify as "resilient" has some interesting aspects. Let me mention at the outset that I shall steer well clear of the Metaphysics of the attribute.

I think it would be a fair question to ask, why bother about the resilience of a person, a group or a system? Unless we can give a satisfactory answer to this query, resilience would be a matter of indifference to us. It would be reasonable to suggest that resilience is desirable because it serves our interests in some way, hence it has a value.

This is a crucial point. Two self-evident inferences follow from it, viz., resilience of something X may be valuable to an individual or to a group of people, and secondly, duration of its value depends on how long an individual or a group would regard the purpose X serves as valuable.

For example, bio-diversity in agriculture makes it more resilient to stresses to which it may be subjected. But the adaptation of mono-culture and factory farms has deprecated the value of the former even though the latter is more vulnerable to such stresses. So, we do not seem to value resilience if a less resilient system enables us to gain a greater financial profit.

For reasons which are not always rational, our dietary tastes and the global food requirements have varied throughout history. These changes the degree of resilience ecosystem services should possess to enable us to meet our dietary needs. Thus, it is difficult to see how one could envisage a notion of resilience independent of people’s desires which change, hence, resilience unchanged by time.

I shall not muddy the water by any reference to a certain theory. However, it is fairly easy to ascertain the adverse effects of incidents that affect large number of people or systems than those of repeated, discreet minor events that affects few individuals or a part of a system.

But, if we remember that a network of causal links may spread from an individual or a part of a system and that repetition of minor adverse events would repeatedly affect those links, it is easy to see that their collective effect could be serious loss of resilience.

However, this does not change the major determinants of resilience, for dealing with external threats to resilience assumes that resilience of X is worthwhile, therefore we need to take steps to preserve or enhance it. So, I suggest we regard resilience with reference to our values, and strive to make them reasonable.

Best wishes!

Lal Manavado.