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Publication review: Food system resilience: Defining the concept


Natural disasters, population growth, changing consumption patterns and political crises are only some of the pressures that affect food systems. In order to ensure the functionality of food systems persists even after these disturbances, the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems recognizes the critical importance of building and improving food system resilience.

However, to efficiently promote food system resilience, a clear and concise explanation of the concept needs to be given. The recently published article “Food system resilience: defining concepts” provides a new and complete definition of food system resilience. Here, we report the most important concepts outlined in the article.

1. The concept of food system resilience must acquire a holistic and long-term perspective

Food systems are made up of many activities of food production, processing and consumption, which are interconnected at different levels and scales. As a result, the concept of food system resilience should capture the intrinsic complexity of the system, considering the cross-level and cross-scale interactions of the activities within it.

The definition provided by the article “recognizes the importance of the time dimension in resilience. It emphasizes that resilience occurs at the multiple levels of the food system, from individuals to national food systems to global webs of value chains, thus signalling that resilience will imply more participatory food systems, and explicitly adopting a whole systems perspective.”

2. Resilience is complementary to sustainability

The concept of food system resilience is complementary and essential to sustainability. As stated in the article, the functional goal of food system resilience is to assure sufficient, appropriate and accessible food for everybody over time, even during perturbations. Disadvantageous outcomes, like food and nutritional insecurity or environmental degradation, should be prevented in favour of changes that help maintain the sustainability of the system.

3. Resilience is a continuous building and learning process

When a disturbance occurs, the resilience of food systems is evaluated according to four properties:

  • Robustness or capacity to withstand shocks
  • Capacity to adsorb the perturbation
  • Flexibility and rapidity to recover
  • Resourcefulness and adaptability.

The four properties of food system resilience

Resilience of food systems does not lead to a stable and optimized state of the system; instead, it continuously develops and builds capacity. This can be explained with a food system resilience action cycle, consisting of reactive actions in response to a shock (absorb, react, restore, learn), as well as preventive actions, like building robustness.

The food system resilience action cycle


4. Assessing and applying food system resilience needs an interdisciplinary, participatory approach

In order to insert food system resilience into a tangible framework, indicators to measure resilience attributes should be identified. Although many indicators have already been proposed, they refer only to some contexts (resilience of livelihoods, agroecosystems, etc.), and knowledge gaps undermine a deeper understanding of the relationships between these and food system resilience.

In order to efficiently address food system resilience and measure its performance over time, transdisciplinary data needs to be collected. A participatory approach that involves different stakeholders and interest groups is critical to collect empirical knowledge that is useful to adequately characterize food systems and understand what contributes to their resilience.

According to the authors there are three entry points to build resilience, from different levels:

  • National or regional food systems can be looked at by policy makers and governments
  • Individual food value chains ranging from local to global levels, which interest individual value chain actors such as industries and retailers
  • Individual’s perspective in the value chain and the and the specific outcomes that concern them.

As stressed in the article, the building process of food system resilience can be initiated and led by any one of these entry points, but the integration of all levels is crucial to assure a whole system perspective. Only by considering the cross-scale and cross-level interactions, food system resilience can be effectively improved.

The conceptual framework provided by the article provides the basis for the instauration of an effective and resilient food system.  The knowledge provided can be used by food system stakeholders and decision-makers to assess resilience of food systems and support interventions to build resilience on a local, regional and global scale.

Read the full article here.


The study reviewed in this blog was conducted under the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. The study was authored by D.M. Tendall, J. Joerin, B. Kopainsky, P. Edwards, A. Shreck, Q.B. Le, P. Kruetli, M. Grant, J. Six

About the author

Martina Antonucci is the Science Communications and Knowledge Management intern at the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.