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14: Human-Environment Interactions

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    Human-Environment Interactions: Resilience, Vulnerability, and Adaptive Capacity (RACV) of Food Systems

    In Module 11, we focus on human-environment interactions in food systems under stress. Just as a human body does not persist in a constant state of perfect health, farms, fisheries and other components of food systems face adversity. These components must have sources of resilience and restoration to overcome these challenges. Shocks and perturbations from the natural world are a major negative coupling force from the natural systems to human societies and are sometimes compounded by problems and crises within societies. Such shocks are most evident where the natural world meets human management in production areas, and so Module 11.1 focuses on the resilience and vulnerability of agriculture. As a premier example of this, we build on the material from module 2 and learn about the way that humans’ manipulation of seeds and plant varieties has created agrobiodiversity. Agrobiodiversity, along with crop management techniques, make food production systems resilient or vulnerable to shocks and perturbations. In Module 11.2 we take up the theme of food access and food insecurity as a major example of vulnerability and an ongoing challenge for a significant proportion of humanity. Food insecurity also manifests as acute crises that carry the formal designation of famines. We will also study these since they are large-scale failures of the modern food system, which currently produces enough food for every person on earth. Just as health sciences and medicine are ways to improve and guarantee health for all persons, our hope is that by understanding vulnerability and resilience in food systems we can address food insecurity for all people as a facet of sustainable food systems. Addressing food insecurity is a serious consideration that you will contemplate in your capstone project.


    • Describe the concepts of resilience, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability (RACV) in a food system.
    • Explain food access and food insecurity as a key challenge to food systems.
    • Appraise the value of human seed systems and agrobiodiversity as human system components that incorporate crops as natural components and foster resilience.
    • Apply concepts of RACV to understand changes in seed systems and food production in examples.
    • Analyze stresses and shocks from climate change and food system failure that lead to both gradual changes in food systems and acute crises such as famines.

    Learning Objectives

    After completing this module, students will be able to:

    • Define the concepts of perturbations and shocks, resilience, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability in the context of agri-food systems.
    • Define and describe agrobiodiversity within food production systems and changes in this agrobiodiversity over time.
    • Define the concepts of food access, food security, food insecurity, malnutrition, and famine.
    • Give examples of resilience, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability in food systems.
    • Give examples of support systems for biodiversity in land use and food systems.
    • Evaluate recent examples in land use and food systems of resilience, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability (RACV).
    • Analyze an example of a recent famine and understand how multiple factors of vulnerability and shocks combine to create widespread conditions of food insecurity known as famines.
    • Understand scales at which resilience and vulnerability come into play, including farm, community, regional, and international scales.
    • Propose principles embodying RACV for incorporation into a proposal/scenario for an example food system (capstone project).


    Module 11 Roadmap

    Please note that some portions of the Summative Assessment may need to be completed prior to class. Detailed instructions for completing the Summative Assessment will be provided in each module.

    Module 11 Roadmap
    Action Assignment Location
    To Read
    1. Materials on the course website.
    2. Nabhan, G.P. p. 129-138 in Chapter 9, "Rediscovering America and Surviving the Dust Bowl: The U. S. Southwest " in Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine. Washington: Island Press. (Module 11.1)
    3. Bittman, Mark. "Don't Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion," NYT, Nov 12, 2014 (Module 11.2)
    4. Deering, K. 2014. Stepping up to the challenge – Six issues facing global climate change and food security. CCAFS (Climate Change and Food Security Program)-UN (United Nations), 2014. (Module 11.2)
    1. You are on the course website now.
    2. From University Course reserves
    3. Online: Don't Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion,
    4. Online: Stepping up to the challenge – Six issues facing global climate change and food security
    To Do
    1. Summative Assessment: The Anatomy of the Somali Famine (2010-2012)
    2. Take Module Quiz
    3. Submit Capstone Stage 4 Assignment
    1. In the course content: Summative Assessment; then take quiz in Canvas
    2. In Canvas
    3. In Canvas


    If you prefer to use email:

    If you have any questions, please send them through Canvas e-mail. We will check daily to respond. If your question is one that is relevant to the entire class, we may respond to the entire class rather than individually.

    If you prefer to use the discussion forums:

    If you have any questions, please post them to the discussion forum in Canvas. We will check that discussion forum daily to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate.

    This page titled 14: Human-Environment Interactions is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Heather Karsten & Steven Vanek (John A. Dutton: e-Education Institute) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.