The concept of resilience, used by many disciplines, refers to the ability of a system to overcome disturbances and return to a desired state of functioning. This ability is assessed in terms of response capacity and the severity of the disturbance that the system is subjected to. Resilience refers as much to an ability to adapt as to transform. Over time, it induces a capacity for learning, particularly on the part of actors in a system managed by humans.
A system can achieve different levels of resilience. For example, sheep-dairy farmers mobilize their stocks or purchase forage resources to cope with periods of drought (static resilience in the face of probable and recurring events). In the event of more severe drought, farmers adapt their systems with the support of agricultural research and extension entities by rebalancing the land-herd ratio and increasing their self-sufficiency in concentrates and forage (dynamic resilience). In the event of an extreme shock, such as a severe shortage of forage resources, a more comprehensive system redesign could lead to the adoption of practices favoring varietal mixes, integrated into crop rotations (complex resilience). Other practices focusing on local breeds, peasants’ seeds, integrated farming and the recycling of nutrients are all examples that promote the resilience of farming systems. Membership of discussion groups such as a Group of Economic and Environmental Interest (GEIE), or learning networks, also enable a participatory approach and collaboration by actors to develop their knowledge and learning capacity.
Agroecology, by urging the re-organization of systems at different scales and their interrelationships, from the plant, soil or animal to the territorialized food system, encourages the design of more resilient production systems.