Resilience and development

Photo credit: Livestock systems and environment

Water collection for animals and domestic use in Tanzania (photo credit: IUCN)

Understanding resilience and how it relates to development outcomes


This is the seventh entry of the resilience blog series, written by Davies Jonathan, the Coordinator of the Global Drylands Initiative at the the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN. Jonathan is also a co-author in a recently produced article which is featured in this blog series.

The International Monetary Fund’s Survey Magazine of April 28, 2015, runs the banner headline ‘Resilient Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, Despite Strong Headwinds’. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Development Banks routinely use the term ’Resilient Growth’ in a sense that resonates with our concept of Development Process Resilience. Whilst economic growth alone may not be an ideal indicator of development, ‘resilient growth’, measured in terms of the rate of change in GDP, is a measure of progress towards one particular development goal; in this way, it is akin to what we are calling development process resilience.

Whether or not the term ‘resilience’ should be used in this context is less interesting to me than what is meant by use of the term. The term is in colloquial usage and it is informative to explore how the normative use of ‘resilience’ relates to the current interpretation in social-ecological science. I suspect that it is the normative use of resilience that has determined its widespread popularity. In our paper it is this implicit or intended meaning that we focus on; the way many actors in the Horn of Africa and globally have adopted the term Resilience to describe their development investments.

The origins of our paper ’Resilience and Sustainable Development: Insights from the Drylands of Eastern Africa’ were a response to the large amount of money being invested in resilience building and concern that the concept was poorly understood and therefore challenging to measure. In the drylands of Eastern Africa such misunderstandings in the past have left a legacy of misguided investments and policies that have aggravated poverty and environmental degradation. So whilst agreeing on definitions can sometimes be tedious, in this case the underlying meaning is of great significance.

Read the full article: Livestock systems and environment

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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