A resilience framework can help provide a dynamic perspective on adaptation processes and their effects at different spatial and temporal scales as parts of a path-dependent trajectory of change.

What Is Resilience?

DFID (2011) defines resilience as “the ability of countries, communities, and households to manage change, by maintaining or transforming living standards in the face of shocks or stresses – such as …drought– without compromising their long-term prospects”.

The resilience framework is based on complex systems theories, bridging social and physical sciences to understand and identify possible ecosystem management options1,2. Within the resilience framework, it is understood that the natural state of a system is one of change rather than of equilibrium, and systems should be managed accordingly for flexibility rather than stability2. The antonym of resilience is often denoted vulnerability3,4. This means that depending on how an individual, family, community cope with changes will have an impact on whether it is taking a resilience or a vulnerability pathway.

There is also an inherent pluralism in what is meant by resilience and adaptation5. The resilience of agricultural communities, which are social-ecological by nature, are affected by the nature of their institution and political context, the robustness of agro ecosystem and the amount of socio-economic assets6,7.

Having strong institutions, robust agro-ecosystems (in terms of natural capital and ecosystem services) and abundant socio-economic assets makes a community more resilient and adaptive.

Across the literature and practice, definitions of resilience describe one or more of three types of behaviour in response to disturbance:

  1. Absorb the disturbance and maintain the same original state. Those concerned with this type of behaviour tend to describe resilience in terms of the maximum amount of disturbance a system can absorb before changing to a different state.
  2. Recover from the disturbance, and return to the original state. Those concerned with this type of behaviour tend to be concerned with the time it takes to recover, whether or not the same path is followed back, whether there is hysteresis and so forth.  Many ecologists refer to resilience as a combination of type 1 and 2 behaviors.
  3. Adapt as a result of the disturbance, changing to a different state that is at least as desirable as the original state. There are those in the resilience community who highlight that it is not always possible or desirable to return to the same equilibrium and who highlight that disturbance can be an opportunity for positive change. This third type of behaviour focuses on adaptive capacity and is often used in combination with the other two by those concerned with human development.

1.Berkes, F., Colding, J., Folke, C. (Eds.), 2003. Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

2. Nelson, D.R., Adger, W.N., Brown, K., 2007. Adaptation to environmental change: contributions of a resilience framework. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 32, 395–419.


4. Füssel, H.M. 2007. Vulnerability: a generally applicable conceptual framework for climate change research. Global Environmental Change 17: 155-167

5. Folke, C. 2006. Reslience: The emergence of a perspective for social-ecological systems analysis. Global Environmental Change 16: 253-267.

6. Janssen, M.A., Schoon, M.L., Ke, W., Börner, K., 2006. Scholarly networks on resilience, vulnerability and adaptation within the human dimensions of global environmental change. Global Environmental Change 16: 240-252.

7. Mitajovic, D., F.V. Oudenhoven, P. Eyzaguirre, T. Hodgkin. 2012. The role of agricultural biodiversity in strengthening resilience to climate change: towards an analytical framework. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 2012 1-13.