Capturing agroecosystem vulnerability and resilience

Groot, Jeroen C.J.; Cortez-Arriola, José; Rossing, Walter A.H.; Massiotti, Ricardo D.A.; Tittonell, Pablo


Vulnerability and resilience are two crucial attributes of social-ecological systems that are used for analyzing the response to disturbances. We assess these properties in relation to agroecosystem buffer capacity and adaptive capacity, which depend on the 'window of opportunities' of possible changes in terms of selected performance indicators, i.e., the solution space. The vulnerability of the system was quantified as the distance of performance indicators between original and disturbed systems. The buffer capacity was derived from the size of the solution space that could be obtained after reconfiguration of farm components (crops, animals, fertilizers, etc.) that were present on the original farm, whereas the assessment of adaptive capacity was derived in a similar way, but after allowing innovation by introducing new components to the farm. To illustrate the approach, we applied these concepts to two dairy farms in Northwest Michoacán, Mexico. After a disturbance resulting in a fodder maize yield decline, both economic profitability and soil organic matter inputs were reduced. The scope for recovery was different between the farms, but the projected improvements in profitability and organic matter inputs would require considerable changes in the farm configurations, and thus flexibility in farm management. High resilience requires a farmer with the managerial ability to make the required changes to move through the proposed solution space. The approach we present here offers a generic quantitative assessment of vulnerability and resilience concepts, based on a combined assessment of the social and ecological dimensions of agroecosystems..