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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

What Makes Resilience Worthwhile and How to Enhance it

Going back to my previous note, resilience would be worthless to us unless it serves some purpose that is important to us. Topology of the visible side of the moon changes everyday because it is bombarded by thousands of meteorites of varying sizes. So, lunar topology is not resilient, but we are not concerned because it does not matter.

But when we talk of the resilience of something, it does not make sense to examine a discreet inanimate object for this quality. For example, it is difficult to see what somebody means if a person begins to talk about the resilience of one’s family jewels. But I am sure everybody would agree that it makes sense to talk about the resilience of a system that is useful to us, for instance, a food system.

Here we face the very serious danger of perverting a concept unless we are extremely careful in what we see as a system. In theory and practice, any single living thing can be seen as a ‘living system’, but if this is extended to embrace a group of individuals, most terrible results can ensue. Please recall that every dreadful dictatorship of the past wittingly or unwittingly saw their populations as systems that should be made resilient enough to tolerate every criticism or threat from inside and outside by using demagogic propaganda, so that the leadership may benefit from people’s resilience while it cost them their freedom and priceless cultural heritage.

I think this caution applies with equal force to things like food systems that are a collection of people, animals, plants and physical objects like various machines, because before we try to find out how we may make a system resilient, it is crucial to ascertain the overall desirability of it. For instance, intensive mono-culture may seem desirable from the reductive view point that everything that increases global food production is good. But weighed against its environmental consequences, its own vulnerability, cost, and failure to significantly promote rural unemployment, etc., it is clear that it is undesirable to promote its resilience.

I think this preamble is necessary as a frame of reference to any discussion of resilience, because unless it is firmly anchored in one of our justifiable needs, eg. nutrition, a discussion on how one may enhance the resilience of a system would prove quite unmanageable. Consider now, made in general terms, this discussion could justifiably include how the head quarter’s staff can make XVIth Army Corp resilient enough to withstand  persistent enemy attacks on a broad front at Z.

This military illustration brings out another point, i.e., we need to have a clear idea of the likely threats to the resilience of our system before we can reasonably begin to think about how to deal with them to enhance the system’s resilience. True, it is not always possible to know in advance all emerging threats to a system’s resilience, nevertheless apart from appropriate use and deployment of its non-living elements, strengthening the innate robustness and flexibility of the living elements of a system seems to be the best choice open to us to enhance a system’s resilience.

I know this may seem too general.  But as I said before, we need to know clearly what system we wish to make  resilient, what are the qualitative and quantitative aspects of its output,  will the present quality and quantity of its output remain sufficient for the foreseeable future, does the system and its present output needs changes in them, etc. Once we know the answers to these questions, we can then begin to anticipate threats to its adequate operation, and then undertake steps to ensure its resilience.

Best wishes!

Lal Manavado.