Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


Beyond “temporal” resilience: results that withstand the test of time

Scholars and development workers may have different opinions on what resilience in the context of human development is. However, all their definitions and actions revolve around understanding shocks and stressors and their effects on individuals and communities, and around building people’s capacity to adapt and transform their livelihoods in order to withstand damage and recover from it.

In implementing resilience-building interventions, the rigor in identifying, understanding, analysing and addressing the multifaceted determinants of resilience is often the driver of success. The complexity of resilience building is underscored by the simple fact that diverse and often repetitive shocks and stressors, no matter how small, can have significant impacts on persons, communities or systems reeling from the effects of another shock/stressor, regardless of their magnitude. This presents a challenge for projects aimed at resilience building and for determining the time frame in which the impact of such programmes are evaluated. An individual deemed “resilient” today could in a short period lose all the capacities he/she has to deal with predictable shocks.

I believe that researchers and development workers need to identify and model successes in building resilience by taking into account not only the coherence and results of the interventions, but also the time frame in which the results could be sustained by the people concerned. My assumption is that short-term interventions and results build "temporal" resilience that only holds within the limits of a given time frame and context, and for only a finite number of predefined vulnerabilities. The compounding reality is that programmes often focus on large-scale shocks and stressors, but not so much on microlevel ones that could affect individuals and communities in no particular pattern or sequence.

With this in mind, I would like to invite members to share and discuss experiences or studies that address the question of whether or not a minimum time frame exists in which an individual, community or system should remain resilient to actually qualify as "resilient". I would avoid considering short-term outcomes as successes in building resilience.

The literature I found on temporality or the time-bound nature of resilience is (surprisingly!) not very recent. A number of publications can be found at this link:

Looking forward to a fruitful discussion.

Walter Mwasaa

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Dr. Dhanya Praveen

Environment Protection Training and Research Institute, Hyderabad

Dear Sir, 

I would like to add a few lines to the beyond “temporal” resilience topic. 

Kindly see the attached diagram developed by me for my research on temporal resilience structure for agriculture. 

Thank you and best regards,

Links to new publications:…

Dr.Dhanya Praveen, Ph.D.,

Climate Change Division

Environmental Protection Training and Research Institute

Gachibowli, Telangana-500032, India.

What a wealth of contributions!

I may not have a model for resilience in the light of time and uncertainties, but nonetheless I feel that my universe of what resilience entails has drastically expanded! Terminology such as “bounce-forward”, a metaphorical illustration of the need to achieve transformational change and not just bounce back to pre-shock state, is probably one of the most compelling concepts.

The discussion delved into using available modelling of weather and predictable changes so that communities can be better prepared for shocks and stressors. The concept of geo-spatial considerations came out strongly –‘how big should we bite’ in resilience building.

The complexity of shocks, dwindling resources, the fatigue caused by limited success, the ever present evolving gender and demographic differences and how the divergence impacts resilience building. In rural and closely knit communities, the societal set-up and how that is being affected by social and geopolitical determinants, market and climate factors were brought to the forefront. In preventing that shocks result in impact to a point of no-return, the pressing need to identify the breaking points at which resilience gains and or ‘critical’ thresholds may be crossed as if to provide an umbrella to all these concepts the simple underlying question – what resilience capacities are we trying to build and their relevance to the shocks and stressors at hand.

One other contribution that resonated quite strongly with me was the whole issue of time as factor not just in terms of overall period for a complete analysis but a closer look at intervals between shocks, large and small as they vary and how that plays into critical seasonal or recurrent and predictable events such as rain, conflict and flu seasons.

Lastly, the impact on policy and planning was given focus, it underlines the need for impact and success especially when governments are prioritizing limited resources.

I come out of this wiser and in the search for an effective model for determining enduring resilience outcomes in increasingly uncertain contexts, the factors to be considered have been fleshed out. I wish all of you the best in your resilience building work and look forward to a future discussion in which we will have covered more ground scientifically, and, more importantly, in the communities and populations, our individual and collective effort target.

Thank you all.

Following my two earlier posts about resilience in the context of social-ecological systems, I attach a policy brief written in 2013 that provides more information on the science of resilience in social-ecological systems and briefly analyses three cases from different parts of Africa. One aspect of these studies is the effects of colonial and post colonial governance on landscapes and rural poverty that have to be addressed as part of a long term project that either restores the landscape to something like its original state; or transforms it into something new. Other important aspects are the long term vision of those who live on the land, the willingness of development agents to work with people on the land, and national government policies that support the emergence of local self-sufficiency and adaptive capacity.

Dear All,

One of the things that I notice about this discussion is that people are using "resilience” rather loosely to convey a general idea about being able to recover from disaster, or be more adaptable to climate change. We use the word “sustainability” in the same general way. This is good for general discussions but we need something more focused for food security projects and policies. For example the Resilience Alliance, a group of scientists that does research on resilience in social-ecological systems uses this definition: 

“The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure and feedbacks, and therefore identity, that is, the capacity to change in order to maintain the same identity.”

And a social-ecological systems is defined as:

“Integrated system of ecosystems and human society with reciprocal feedback and interdependence. The concept emphasizes the humans-in-nature perspective.”

There are a number of other key definitions in the same paper:

Folke, C., S. R. Carpenter, B. Walker, M. Scheffer, T. Chapin, and J. Rockström. 2010. Resilience thinking: integrating resilience, adaptability and transformability. Ecology and Society 15(4): 20. [online] URL:

The paper discusses the relationship between resilience, adaptability and transformability, which are three key concepts for understanding the management of change processes in any social-ecological system.

Practical application of resilience theory is described in relation to a farming system in western Australia where poor soil and water management practice led to a major salination problem and decline in wheat production: Walker, B. H., N. Abel, J. M. Anderies, and P. Ryan. 2009. Resilience, adaptability, and transformability in the Goulburn-Broken Catchment, Australia. Ecology and Society 14(1): 12. [online] URL: http://www.

A couple of points about assessing resilience:

1. Social-ecological systems are open systems and influenced by both their sub-systems and the larger systems of which they are a part. A family farm is a subsystem of a rural village, which is a subsystem of a landscape, which is a subsystem of … These open sub-systems are continually evolving over time and the resilience of any one of these subsystems will increase or decrease as a consequence of the multiple feed-back interactions that occur between them. For management purposes, one has to be clear about the boundaries of the system being managed and the primary feedbacks that are either driving the system in a particular direction (reinforcing feedback) or balancing feedbacks that are returning a system to an earlier condition. This assessment is about resilience of a specified system to specified shocks and enables managers to assess the risk that a system (a farm, or a farming community, or a agricultural landscape will suddenly change into an undesirable state. The Australian example shows how poor water management changed the farming landscape into an undesirable state.

2.  In addition to assessing the resilience of a system to specific socks and stressors, the status and trend of a number of attributes that enhance the potential of a system to change (either to adapt or to transform) can be assessed in what is know as an assessment of general resilience as opposed to specified resilience described about. An example of this kind of assessment is given in this paper: Nemec, K. T., J. Chan, C. Hoffman, T. L. Spanbauer, J. A. Hamm, C. R. Allen, T. Hefley, D. Pan, and P. Shrestha. 2013. Assessing resilience in stressed watersheds. Ecology and Society 19(1): 34.

The two kinds of assessment are complimentary.

There is a simple resilience assessment of a case in Tanzania where land use practice has undergone two major changes over the last fifty years in response to: firstly a development aid intervention to improve agricultural production that led desertification (an unforeseen and undesirable change); and secondly to a restoration effort that put local people and their knowledge back into the land use decision making process. The case description is available here:

There is a range of cases reporting resilience, loss of resilience and transformation in arctic communities that have been severely affected by climate change posted on the Stockholm Resilience website…. These include cases about communities whose livelihood strategies include fishing, herding and hunting.

Thanks Walter for bringing up this thematically important but practically overlooked topic among actors working on resilience building. I have been working on resilience building interventions for over five years among the pastoralist communities in Ethiopia and Somalia.

Defining a minimum time frame in which an individual, community or system should remain resilient depends on the type of disaster. A group resilient to drought might not be similarly resilient to conflict or disease outbreak or other type of disaster. Thus, identifying the type of shock or stress to which an individual or communities are resilient to needs to be defined while speaking about the time frame of resilience. For example, in the drylands of the Horn of Africa, drought and conflict are the common phenomenon frequently eroding the resilience capacity of the pastoralist communities. In the past, the pastoralists in this part of the world were efficiently managing their water and pasture resources while switching between wet and dry season grazing areas; and mobility was a key aspect of their resilience. However, over the past couple of decades, the increased frequency of disaster (almost every 3 to 4 years) accompanied by severe land degradation and wrong perception of the policy makers about the pastoralist livelihood and the increased tendency to sedentarize them has had detrimental impacts to the resilience of pastoralists. In addition, the type of livelihood and means of production also determines the time frame of community resilience. Most of the agricultural production systems (both crop and livestock) in the Horn of Africa (HoA) are rain fed and thus highly sensitive to climate variabilities. An irrigation-based agricultural production could be resilient for longer period of time than the one relying on rain fall.

Although there are several ongoing interventions aiming at building community resilience to mainly drought disasters in the HoA, they are mostly quite short-term in their nature and apparently unable to address the root causes of vulnerability. Programmes aiming to address resilience building need to be focused and flexible enough and at the same time there must be enough funding to scale up or out promising pilot intervenstions. The increased frequencies of different disaster phenomena are challenging the development gains of long-term resilience building initiatives in the arid and semi-arid areas of Africa and thus making determination of timeframe of community resilience ever difficult. In this regard, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, just like some other donors is introducing contingency funding mechanism (also called the crisis modifier) to its long-term (12 years) resilience building programmes. This will help minimize disaster impacts to the development gains of our interventions while ensuring an effective and timely response action in disaster situations.

In general, despite more number of actors in resilience building these days, the overall pastoralist communities’ resilience especially in the HoA is significantly dwindling. Pastoralists were better resilient in the past than today. More often, resources are also available for emergency situations than longer-term development interventions which could potentially address the structural causes of vulnerability. In addition, early warning information is timely available sometimes but it is not delivered to the communities in a way they could easily understand and take up early actions. Therefore, community knowledge of early warning information is another important aspect to be considered vis-à-vis the time frame of community resilience.

Mr. Stefan Pasti

The Community Peacebuilding and Cultural Sustainability (CPCS) Initiative
United States of America

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion.

I am submitting comments on the subject of what kind of human habitats deserve the most attention, as we focus more and more attention on creating habitats with long term resilience.  As my questions and comments will illustrate, I believe that long term resilience--in terms of both systems and habitats--will be, and must be, closely related to what we arrive at as the best models for carbon neutral economies, and what we arrive at as the best models for ecologically sustainable habitats.

I am agreement with Mr. Mwasaa, in his introduction to this “resilience” topic, that “the rigor in identifying, understanding, analysing and addressing the multifaceted determinants of resilience is often the driver of success”.

Specifically, my questions, comments, and observations (detailed in the attached file) are centered by the following three very-much-related questions-- 

Of the two following descriptions of habitats which could be our primary focus for global warming/climate change mitigation with the hope of holding global warming to 1.5oC--

--megacities with more than one million people, and with sometimes over 15 million people


--medium to small sized cities (with populations of 100,000 people, or less) and towns--

which of the above two habitat descriptions have the strongest likelihood of leading us quickly, and most decisively, to holding global warming below 2oC?

which of the above two habitat descriptions have the best chance of being our foundation and support for ecological sustainability on into the future?    and

which of the two habitats descriptions above would represent more resilience (and less vulnerabilities) if we only manage to hold warming to 2.5oC or 3oC?

The attached file (titled “Questions for CCLS17 Panel Discussion--Diminishing Returns re Megacities?”)(8 pages) is a question and comment statement I submitted to the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series (23 February-16 March 2017; University of Cambridge, UK; hashtag #CCLS17).  Then I was directing my question and comment statement specifically to the Panel Discussion, which was livestreamed on Thursday 16 March 2017, from 18:30-20:00 GMT.

Although my questions and comments (it is the same document in the above link, and in the attached file) were directed specifically to the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series, I believe those same questions and comments are highly relevant to the topic of this discussion... and that long term resilience, as a feature of human habitats--and what human habitats will be both most useful and practical in holding global warming below 2oC, and our best foundation for ecological sustainability long into the future)--are three subjects which are very, very closely related. 

And I believe that megacities with more than one million people, and with sometimes over 15 million people, are very seriously over-rated as a primary focus for carbon neutral economies, as a foundation for ecologically sustainable habitats, as a base for solution-oriented activity on many other critical challenges (especially those challenges related to solving social issues, but also challenges related to water conservation and food security)--and thus very seriously over-rated as a primary focus for long term resilience.  We would do much better to focus as much as possible on medium to small sized cities (with populations of 100,000 people, or less) and towns--if we want to build long term resilience into human habitats.

I hope my contribution is helpful to the discussion.

For a Peaceful and Sustainable Future,

Stefan Pasti

It requires cross-disciplinary joint programming to support communities and enable them to confront large-scale shocks and stressors.  The conclusion with a few recommendations in an article written in 2014 'Adapting to climate change and addressing drought -- learning from the Red Cross Red Crescent experiences in the Horn of Africa' could be a useful reference.


Marco d'Errico


Dear all,

The question on whether or not a minimum time frame exists in which an individual, community or system should remain resilient to actually qualify as "resilient" is well posed and dramatically relevant for policy purposes. My initial reaction is both yes and no. YES, if a household manages to survive a shock it can be considered as “resilient”. NO, if it survives the first shock and does not survive the second it is not resilient. Therefore there is not a time frame in which one unit of analysis can be considered as resilient; there is only an outcome, surviving or not surviving; or, under a more nuanced perspective, if the shock permanently damages its capacity or not.

Time matters in resilience analysis and programming, because of many reasons:

Some intervention may be more effective on the long- rather than on the short-period (think about education).

Some shocks may have a more devastating effect if repeated (say a household can resist to one drought but not to three consecutive droughts).

Some internal capacities (say “internal-psychological” resilience) may be deteriorated after an iterated experienced unsecure situation.

Some coping strategies may translate into fatal asset or consumption disruption.

How can we factor this aspects into a consistent measurement framework?

We in FAO are trying to remove the linearity assumption of our RIMA in order to detect long- and short-term effects on resilience.

We are focusing especially on adaptive capacity, as it is the only aspect of resilience that directly deal with time. In fact adaptation looks at inner capacity of adapting to a new situation which can happen after every single shock.

Time is important to resilience analysis and measurement in two more aspects. First it bridges humanitarian and development interventions, by pushing the perspective from short term recovery to long term development.

Second, as someone correctly pointed out in this online discussion, women and men might be exposed to different kinds of shocks and stressors and their coping strategies might differ as well. If one consider, on top of this, that female headed households may have different endowment in term of long-term adaptive capacity, it is clear that specific interventions and analysis must be considered.

"Resilience" to food security in relation to time is an important issue that can be debated from different perspectives. The capacity of human beings to be resilient when faced with certain conditions is a product of several factors.

Food as a biological product is subject to life cycles that are natural and this is related to time. Biological systems are often in cycles e.g carbon, nitrogen and other elemental cycles can have profound effects with time. Research that study these cycles can generate data to product likely events and how it can affect the food system. A case in point, is climate change and its adverse effects. How individuals  / communities/ regions will be resilient to such changes will be a product of how well they are equiped to deal with such. This is one of the reasons why food systems are often complex and need a very multidisciplinary approach.

In regions where there is a strong communal spirit to share traditional foods that are linked to the cultural lifestyle e.g in indigenous communities in the Arctic regions, the ability to cope with food insecurity is strengthened. The community will be less resilient when the opportunity of sharing traditional fish, games is limited especially in cases where there is limited income to purchase imported foods. "The ability to save for the rainy day" will depend on how the food system has been managed from the farm to plate.


Dele Raheem

Dear All,

My masters thesis is looking at the impact of agroecology on the adaptability of smallholders in Limpopo, South Africa. Seven individuals from communities in Limpopo participated in a three month agroecology training programme in August 2016. Upon returning to their communities, many of the individuals have either adapted their farming practices or have begun sharing their knowledge of agroecology with local smallholder farmers in order to assist them in adapting their practices. Although I have only begun the research, it has become evident over the past few months that providing an evaluation of whether the agroecology training has been successful or not in improving the smallholders' adaptive capacity, and thus the resilience of their communities, is not yet possible. It is difficult to specify a minimum time frame to remain resilient, as it is clear that developing capabilities that improve individuals' or groups' adaptive capacity or resilience is context dependent. For instance, South Africa was experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades but in February and March, the country received significant rainfall. This has major implications for farmers in Limpopo, as the drought in that province was particularly severe. My thoughts are that perhaps the focus should rather lie on continously reinforcing individuals or a system's ability to adapt to change given the contextual nature of shocks and crises that emerge.