Unpacking the concept of resilience: its practical application in food value chains

Banner image, market

Partly triggered by COVID-19, resilience is comfortably making its way to becoming the next buzzword. But what does it really mean? What do we concretely mean if we say that a food value chain is resilient? How can resilience be strengthened? In autumn 2020, SNV and WEcR (Wageningen Economic Research) decided it was relevant to bring together SNV’s on-the-ground track-record and Wageningen University’s research reputation to get to grips with the concept of resilience and its practical application in sub-Saharan African food value chains. In our joint publication, 'Strengthening resilience in Africa’s food value chains: exploring the concept of resilience and its dimensions given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic', we make the first steps in doing just that.

Food system resilience has been given increasing attention in recent years. The impact of COVID-19 on food production, markets, trade as well as subsequent food availability and accessibility has created even more interest in food system resilience. There are numerous definitions and interpretations of resilience however, often creating confusion about its practical application.

What is vulnerability? How does it relate to resilience? How do we measure resilience? How do we strengthen or improve resilience? For whom or what? These are just some of the important questions that begin to emerge when exploring resilience in the context of food value chains.

In this publication we:

  1. Unpack the concept of resilience and is different dimensions (chapter 2)

  2. Propose a framework for developing resilience strategies and actions (chapter 3)

  3. Apply that (as an initial example) to vulnerabilities of agri-SMEs (chapter 4)

  4. End with some general guidance (chapter 5)

This is not a finished conversation. The dimensions and frameworks provided in this document are a first attempt to operationalise our understandings of food value chain resilience. The application to agri-SMEs in this document is just an initial example. It is the beginning of our trajectory towards deeper understanding of resilience in various parts of food value chains. CORE-Africa (SNV’s “COVID-19 Response and Resilience Initiative for Food Value Chains in Africa”) is presently looking more profoundly at resilience in a variety of topics:  a) farmer inputs and services, b) consumer market channels, c) digitalisation, and d) hygiene integration in value chains.

With this document we hope to provide the reader with an effective concept to better understand resilience and a starting point for actively using it. SNV and WEcR will continue to collaborate in deepening understanding of and action on resilience in food value chains and systems. The authors welcome your inputs and feedback.

For further information, contact: Rowena Namatovu (rnamatovu@snv.org), Jan Ubels (jubels@snv.org)