Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 543–559 | Cite as

The role of knowledge in building food security resilience across food system domains

  • Molly DelCarmen AndersonEmail author


Food systems are social-ecological systems essential for human life. Many food systems are in parallel operation globally, differing in their practices, impacts, use of knowledge, and resilience. Those that are adapted to local constraints and assets and intentionally use and preserve ecosystem services result in lower environmental impacts and are less prone to lead to catastrophic environmental thresholds. Actors within food systems are constantly changing their practices to adapt to pressure and perturbations. Changing activities are correlated with changes in knowledge systems as well. Contributions to the resilience of social-ecological systems have been identified and evaluated, primarily based in ecosystem studies. Many of these attributes (e.g., memory, learning, self-organization) have to do with forms of knowledge. This paper suggests characteristics of “resilient knowledge” and links it with enabling power to make needed changes. How can this enabling power allow social organizations from the community to the international scale to build resilience to all kinds of perturbations into their food systems and create the knowledge systems that resilience requires? This paper compares knowledge generation, transmission, access, and use in four food system domains (global industrial, independent commercial, local and sustainable, and fair trade) discriminated on dimensions of globalization and multifunctionality. The objective of these comparisons is to understand connections among the resilience of food systems, food security, and knowledge systems. The paper concludes with a case study of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The CFS embodies and facilitates many of the attributes of resilient knowledge generation and access; some of the tensions within the CFS reflect whether knowledge used by the Committee will have attributes of resilient knowledge. I argue that forms of knowledge generation, transmission, and access must be participatory, multi-actor, iterative, and transparent in order to build food security resilience. I also argue that knowledge at multiple scales must be resilient and interlocking in order to protect social organizations from food shortages and impaired food security.


Food systems Resilience Knowledge systems Transitions Committee on World Food Security 



I want to thank Les Firbank and other colleagues in the North America/Europe sub-regional IAASTD for initial stimulating discussions of food system domains and their dynamics. I also want to thank colleagues in the CSM of the CFS for their courage and persistence in fighting for resilient knowledge in service to the right to food.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Middlebury CollegeMiddleburyUSA

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