Operationalizing food system resilience: an indicator-based assessment in agroindustrial, smallholder farming, and agroecological contexts in Bolivia and Kenya

Resilience is often considered a precondition for sustainable social-ecological systems. But how can this understanding of resilience be applied to food systems? We operationalized the concept by subdividing it into different resilience dimensions, namely: buffer capacity, self-organization, and capacity for learning and adaptation.

Specific indicators were defined for each dimension: (1) agrobiodiversity and livelihood assets for buffer capacity; (2) decentralization and independence, local consumption of production, interest groups, ecological self-regulation, and connectivity for self-organization; and (3) knowledge of threats and opportunities, reflective and shared learning, feedback mechanisms, existence and use of local-traditional knowledge, and a shared food system vision for capacity for learning and adaptation. Next, we applied the resilience indicators to different food systems (agroindustrial, local, and agroecological) in Kenya and Bolivia, including assessment of the interaction and coexistence of food systems. While the contexts in the two countries differ greatly, we identified several common trends that appear to be undermining food system resilience in both settings.

These trends include low ecological buffer capacity and self-regulation in agroindustrial food systems; strong disparities in income and access to productive resources; competition for water, land, and labor; exclusion from markets; and low human capital and feedback mechanisms in locally based, traditional food systems. Taken together, these trends cast doubt on food system coexistence narratives.

Finally, the results enable us to identify leverage points in the food systems – e.g., regarding learning and feedback mechanisms – that could be used to foster food system transformations linked to goals of sustainability and justice.


This study was conducted by Johanna, Jacobi; Mukhovi, Stellah; Aymara, Llanque and Augstburger, Horacio.