Adapting a social-ecological resilience framework for food systems

Abstract

The purpose of applying social-ecological resilience thinking to food systems is twofold: first, to define those factors that help achieve a state in which food security for all and at all scales is possible and second, to provide insights into how to maintain the system in this desirable regime. However, the resilience of food systems is distinct from the broader conceptualizations of resilience in social-ecological systems because of the fundamentally normative nature of food systems: humans need food to survive, and thus, system stability is typically a primary policy objective for food system management. However, society also needs food systems that can intensify sustainably, i.e., feed everybody equitably, provide livelihoods, and avoid environmental degradation while responding flexibly to shocks and uncertainty. Today’s failure in meeting food security objectives can be interpreted as the lack of current governance arrangements to consider the full and differential dimensions of food system functions—economic, ecological, and social—at appropriate scales: in other words, the multifunctionality of food. We focus on functional and response diversity as two key attributes of resilient, multifunctional food systems, respectively, the number of different functional groups and the diversity of types of responses to disturbances within a functional group. Achieving food security will require functional redundancy and enhanced response diversity, creating multiple avenues to fulfill all food system objectives. We use the 2013–2015 drought in California to unpack the potential differences between managing for a single function—economic profit—and multiple functions. Our analysis emphasizes how the evolution of the Californian food system has reduced functional and response diversity and created vulnerabilities. Managing for the resilience of food systems will require a shift in priorities from profit maximization to the management for all functions that create full food security at multiple scales.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    A social-ecological system is an integrated system in which humans are part of nature and therefore cultural, political, social, economic, ecological, and technological components interact (Berkes and Folke 1998).

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Correspondence to Jennifer Hodbod.

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Hodbod, J., Eakin, H. Adapting a social-ecological resilience framework for food systems. J Environ Stud Sci 5, 474–484 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-015-0280-6

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Keywords

  • Food systems
  • Resilience
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Diversity
  • California