Resilience: the philosophy of socio-ecological leeway


A showy graph from the Gates Foundation
A showy graph from the Gates Foundation

Environmental sciences are great fun for those who like to connect everything with everything else, and then cast their doubts on all these relations. But it also involves very urgent and earnest matter. For a university course, I wrote a 13p essay on agricultural paradigms and practices, which addresses how agriculture has been approached by western scientists and policymakers, and how this conflicted with ecological and social situations especially in non-western regions. And, because this is my first thorough exercise in this subject, I have taken some issues a bit broader. As well as my recommendations.

The essay in summary:

The Green Revolution has imposed a high-input-high-output paradigm that reveals its flaws especially in fragile, instable ecological areas where it is ecologically and economically untenable. Much of the failure in Sub-Saharan Africa and other vulnerable regions can be ascribed to a mismatch both cultural (Western ‘master-and-possessor’ paradigm versus indigenous holistic cosmology) and ecological (ignorance of ecological complexity and extrapolation of potent farming conditions to marginal areas). Agroecology is a strategy with a range of techniques that may both revitalize or improve marginal agriculture and bring ecology back to intensified, high-input agriculture. It offers scope for agriculture in marginal areas, currently often erosive, to become ‘well-functioning’ while avoiding that this is accompanied by large increases in external inputs and homogenization. Intensive agriculture can be improved by using more integrated and holistic techniques. To this end, the concerted action of human and nature should form the basis of sufficient, and sustainable, productivity. I propose resilience as an important and potent tool in achieving this. Resilience opens up new opportunities in the foggy path towards a more sustainable world. With keeping ‘resilience’ and ‘leeway’ in mind, a valuable asset could be added to society’s developmental basket.

Een zeer beknopte Nederlandse woordenlijst voor de minder ingevoerden:

  • Indigenous: inheems
  • Leeway: speelruimte, bewegingsvrijheid
  • Paradigm: paradigma, ofwel ruwweg ‘hoe men over dingen denkt’
  • Resilience: de veerkracht van een systeem, de capaciteit om klappen op te vangen