Resilience is the ability to deal with shocks and stresses, including the unknown and previously un-imaginable, such as the Covid-19 crisis. This paper assesses (i) how different farming systems were exposed to the crisis, (ii) which resilience capacities were revealed and (iii) how resilience was enabled or constrained by the farming systems’ social and institutional environment. The 11 farming systems included have been analysed since 2017. This allows a comparison of pre-Covid-19 findings and the Covid-19 crisis. Pre-Covid findings are from the SURE-Farm systematic sustainability and resilience assessment. For Covid-19 a special data collection was carried out during the early stage of lockdowns.
Our case studies found limited impact of Covid-19 on the production and delivery of food and other agricultural products. This was due to either little exposure or the agile activation of robustness capacities of the farming systems in combination with an enabling institutional environment. Revealed capacities were mainly based on already existing connectedness among farmers and more broadly in value chains. Across cases, the experience of the crisis triggered reflexivity about the operation of the farming systems. Recurring topics were the need for shorter chains, more fairness towards farmers, and less dependence on migrant workers. However, actors in the farming systems and the enabling environment generally focused on the immediate issues and gave little real consideration to long-term implications and challenges. Hence, adaptive or transformative capacities were much less on display than coping capacities. The comparison with pre-Covid findings mostly showed similarities. If challenges, such as shortage of labour, already loomed before, they persisted during the crisis. Furthermore, the eminent role of resilience attributes was confirmed. In cases with high connectedness and diversity we found that these system characteristics contributed significantly to dealing with the crisis. Also the focus on coping capacities was already visible before the crisis. We are not sure yet whether the focus on short-term robustness just reflects the higher visibility and urgency of shocks compared to slow processes that undermine or threaten important system functions, or whether they betray an imbalance in resilience capacities at the expense of adaptability and transformability.
Our analysis indicates that if transformations are required, e.g. to respond to concerns about transnational value chains and future pandemics from zoonosis, the transformative capacity of many farming systems needs to be actively enhanced through an enabling environment.