Ag resilience a priority for IANR

Ag resilience a priority for IANR

Craig Allen
Craig Allen

Agricultural production must increase more than 70% by 2050 to meet the global demand for food, fuel, feed and fiber. Meeting this goal will require far-reaching growth in agriculture, more efficient use of marginal lands and new methods to deal with extreme weather, soil degradation and biological invasions.

To help meet that demand, the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources has formed a new resilience center with two components — the Center for Resilience in Working Agricultural Landscapes and Nebraska One Health. Together they focus on the theory and practice of resilience. The center's director is Craig Allen, former research professor and director of the university's Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

Resilience is a term widely used by agricultural producers, industries and policymakers, and by federal agencies but definitions vary. “Resilience is simply a measure of the amount of disturbance a system can withstand before it collapses,” Allen said. “Resilience can be measured and operationalized to explicitly help us solve many of the issues that challenge human well-being in the 21st century.”

Nebraska is the ideal experimental laboratory to continue advancing the resilience concept, said Allen, an internationally respected expert on wildlife ecology and conservation. He is on the executive boards of the Resilience Alliance and the Nature Conservancy and is a founding member of the Nebraska Conservation Roundtable.

Allen envisions the center becoming the leading global institution in agricultural resilience, focused on protecting the agricultural systems that feed the world and the health of the people who inhabit it.

A resilience approach generally has some common elements, including

  • Working with stakeholders to define key issues and provide a focus
  • Using models, if necessary, to help identify limits to acceptable change or thresholds
  • Examining the roles of decision-making, customs, rules or regulations for insights and options for building resilience and adapting to changing circumstances.
We envisioned a center small in terms of personnel, but with a large impact, focused on delivery of research, teaching, outreach and global leadership in the area of resilience of working agricultural landscapes. Craig Allen

The university and the resilience center are in a unique position to better develop, integrate and implement theories of resilience with field-based practices. This is because of the global expertise and leadership in both, and the history of blending theory with practical applications to management and production, Allen said. “No other institutions nationally or internationally have an explicit focus on resilience in agricultural systems.”

The multidisciplinary center, which draws on the expertise of many faculty members, emphasizes the resilience of the north-central Great Plains, one of the most productive agricultural regions with one of the most complex irrigation systems in the world.

“The science and technology that have enabled this agricultural production have been exported as a global solution to food insecurity, yet the resilience and long-term sustainability of this model is uncertain and untested,” Allen said. “The importance of this system, and others like it, demands an understanding of its response to stress and where critical tipping points may lay. We don't understand how resilient it is.”

Resilience is not only important to agriculture and natural resources, it pervades disciplines ranging from the natural sciences to the physical and social sciences. Additionally, it has an important link with the goals of Nebraska One Health, he said.

The university's One Health program brings together people with diverse backgrounds, skills and perspectives to improve the health of humans, animals, both wild and domestic, plants and their shared environments. One Health and resilience are related concepts that together create a unique and novel approach to understanding those interactions, Allen said.

“In our world of rapidly changing landscapes and human and animal populations, there is an increasing need for creative local and global solutions to challenges at the human-animal-environment interface.”