Assessing a farm's sustainability: insights from resilience thinking
Darnhofer, Ika; Fairweather, John; Moller, Henrik
Research on sustainability in agriculture often focuses on reducing the environmental impacts of production systems. However, environmentally friendly production methods may not be sufficient to ensure the long-term economic and social sustainability of a farm. Taking a systems approach to sustainable farming, we turn to resilience thinking with its focus on the interdependence of social and ecological systems. We apply this approach to farming by conceptualizing a farm as being part of a set of systems spanning several spatial scales and including agro-ecological, economic and political-social domains. These subsystems interact and are subjected to their own complex dynamics. Within such a complex adaptive system, farm sustainability can only be achieved through adaptability and change. To be ready for the inevitable periods of turbulent change, a farmer needs to retain diversity and redundancy to ensure adaptability. Resilience is thus more likely to emerge when farmers hone the capacity to transform the farm, when farm production is attuned to the local ecological carrying capacity, and when learning and innovation are targeted outcomes. This article shows how resilience theory applied to farming may provide a more comprehensive route to achieving sustainability and offers rules of thumb as guides to building farm resilience.
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Rights Statement: © 2010 Earthscan
Keywords: adaptive management; agriculture; complex adaptive systems; farming systems; social–ecological resilience; sustainability
Research Type: Journal Article