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Agricultural Resilience in the Face of Crises and Shocks

April 22, 2014

Agriculture is challenged by a number of threats such as food price spikes, land and water scarcity, rising energy and fertilizer prices and the impact of climate change on food production. Feeding more than 9 billion people by 2050 will require doubling food production on a sustainable basis. Therefore, agriculture should be resilient — able to withstand or recover from stresses and shocks.

The World Economic Forum defines the resilience of a country as having three components

  1. robustness: the ability to absorb and withstand disturbances and crises;
  2. redundancy: having excess capacity and back-up systems that enable the maintenance of core functionality in the event of disturbances, and
  3. resourcefulness: the ability to adapt to crises, respond flexibly and, when possible, transform a negative impact into a positive one.

In the face of crises, the resilience of a country is measured by its response to mobilise and react quickly, and lastly, its capability to recover and regain a degree of normality after a crisis or event.

The concept of resilience has evolved in response to the need to manage interactions between human systems and ecosystems in a sustainable manner. In their 2012 report on growth and resilience, the Montpellier Panel – a panel of international experts from the fields of agriculture, sustainable development, trade, policy and global development – made suggestions for building resilience, placing an emphasis on political leadership to achieve resilient markets, agriculture and people, as shown in the table below.

Resilient Markets Resilient Agriculture Resilient People
Reduction of food price volatility Enabling resilient and sustainable intensification Scaling up nutrition
Facilitation of private investments Combating land and water degradation Focusing on rural women and youth
Building better enabling environments Building climate smart agriculture Building diverse livelihoods

The Montpellier Panel. 2012. Growth with Resilience: Opportunities in African Agriculture. London: Agriculture for Impact.  

Developing resilient agriculture will require technologies and practices that build on agro-ecological knowledge and enable smallholder farmers to counter environmental degradation and climate change in ways that maintain sustainable agricultural growth.

Resilience can be strengthened in many different ways and at different levels: through political, economic, sociological and technological interventions. Improving resilience will have many impacts on the agriculture sector, including: increased adaptation of crops and livestock to climate stress; enhanced access and utilisation of technology and information; improved income generation; increased use of resource-conserving technologies; open and transparent trade regimes; improved risk sharing.

National or regional early warning systems capable of predicting imminent disasters need to be strengthened or developed where they do not exist, and better linked to decision making and response organizations. Linking weather data with nutritional information, crops and animal disease outbreaks and market prices, the systems need to draw their data from all levels, including community-level. To mitigate volatility, the stock-to-use ratio of food products needs to be improved by creating conditions for production increases and for adequate stock. Moreover, export restrictions of basic food products should be discouraged. This will include responding through market transparency (information on production, reserves, prices, etc.), promoting storage, and local/national food reserves where appropriate and feasible. The impacts of price volatility can be mitigated by using a range of measures, including the establishment of scalable safety nets, food security information systems, use of (weather, index) insurance, and an enhanced capacity to use price risk management instruments.

See CTA joint work with IFPRI:

Brussels Briefing multimedia resources on agricultural resilience: http://tinyurl.com/k9by7jv

Reader (key resources on the subject): http://tinyurl.com/k8cld3v

European Development Dayshigh-level panel on resilience: http://tinyurl.com/m7ed64x

IFPRI 2020 Conference, May 2014: http://www.2020resilience.ifpri.info/


CTA and CIRAD: 

See CTA work on 

Building resilience of small island economies: http://tinyurl.com/m3gl9ha

CTA and CIRAD : http://resilience2014.org/