Fred Kirschenmann – Resilience will trump sustainability

One day I pulled down my copy of the
Oxford English Dictionary and looked up the term sustainable and
actually the definition is pretty simple it’s how to maintain something, how to keep
something going now where the question becomes more complex is how you how do you keep a food system going and how do you maintain it so that it feeds a human population in a quote “sustainable way.” Now that, there you begin to have that’s where you can begin to have the
debate and the predominant view of that and therefore their claim to
be sustainable within the more industrial
agriculture approach is that the way you maintain it is you simply intensify what we’ve been doing. Look how successful it’s been for the last 60 years We’ve doubled, tripled our production of wheat and corn and soybeans and rice so
we just do more of that you know we develop more of those technologies keep doing that
and then we will be able to maintain, keep going in a system so we’re the ones that are sustainable Farmers on the other hand who are
looking at this and recognizing that a lot resources that we’re using to maintain
and keep going the industrial system aren’t gonna be there so
we have to really change, we have to look at alternative approaches and so that’s what the debate currently is about Now I think that because we’re both using the word
sustainable in these very different ways the term sustainable is not gonna be very useful for us anymore and there’s
another concept which was developed actually by ecologists like CS
Holling originally back in the 1990s and that’s
the term resilience and CS Holling pointed out that systems are not stable whether they’re social systems or
economic systems or natural systems they always go through cycles of change and so the important thing about maintaining a culture of some kind, whether it’s a
food culture or anything else is how do you build resilience into the
system that absorbs these changes as they come along so if you have shocks and disturbances
how can you build a system that absorbs those shocks and disturbances and still provides the goods and services that you want
that is essentially what resilience is about now when you look at it that way the more efficient you make a system the less
resilient it is because efficiency wants to get all
of the redundancies out of the system in order
to increase the efficiency rate but it’s the redundancy in the systems
which gives you the material, the diversity of
resources to absorb the shocks and disturbances.


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