The idea of resiliency in the face of climate change has been a popular idea lately, but a “resilient system” is difficult to define and a slippery concept at best. Resiliency does not describe any one mechanism, nor does it describe a policy. Rather, resiliency describes the interaction between components of a system under stress. As a hydroclimate scientist, the idea of “resiliency” is particularly of interest to me in the context of agriculture.
New Security Beat is running a series of articles on resilient agriculture in the face of climate change. The most recent article begins with a point that is not often emphasized: resiliency is natural. As the author notes, “any effort to build resilience must begin with a deep understanding of existing strengths and adaptive mechanisms and make every effort to keep them intact”. Agricultural systems are a complex weave of formal and informal relationships (both financial and otherwise), which all play a part in determining the resiliency of the system. As such, agriculture cannot be approached from a single scale or a single perspective. The remainder of this post focuses primarily on financial and information-driven initiatives, but these are by no means the only perspectives at play in such systems.
From a financial perspective, we have been fairly good about discussing mechanisms that function across scales. On the micro-level there has been extensive study of micro-loan structures both formally through development banks and informally through community organizations. On a macro scale there has recently been interesting developments in the successful implementation of parametric weather-linked crop insurance. The IRI recently partnered with Oxfam and Swiss Re (among others) in a fascinating pilot study of weather-linked crop insurance for Northern Ethiopia, which I would encourage you to read. These two financial mechanisms, although applied in different manners, are complementary means to the same end.
From an information dissemination perspective we have had a somewhat more lopsided approach to providing support for the development of resilient systems. Many recent developments have pioneered exciting top-down information dissemination programs by partnering with local meteorological offices to issue growing season forecasts to farmers (please do watch the short video in the link, it is a great example of why such programs are invaluable). Despite these recent advances, we have too often overlooked the potential added value of low-tech community-scale information systems. Supplementing regional forecasts with local information is not a new concept, but it seems to be a discussion that is too-often missing from the academic literature. As a scientific community we need to consider not only how we can provide valuable forecasts, but also how those forecasts will interface with existing community-scale information systems.
Finally, looming in the substratum of any discussion involving climate change is the notion that no system is static, and no future certain. Although these are topics for another post, I’ll briefly point to an interesting article, which describes an increasing number of pastoralists in East Africa taking up farming due to the insecurities of a pastoral life in times of drought. If this trend continues, the dynamics of the East African agricultural system will change significantly and projections of growing season precipitation will become that much more valuable.