In Search of the Resilient Sahelian: Reflections on a Fashionable Notion

Date01 March 2017
Published date01 March 2017
In Search of the Resilient Sahelian:
Reections on a Fashionable Notion
Benoît Lallau1
is paper examines the gure of the “resilient Sahelian” identi-
ed or sought by numerous aid actors and funding bodies in West
Africa. Does this notion of resilience contribute to something gen-
uinely new, and if so, how? What methodological challenges does
it raise? Can it be operationalized? And, above all, which policies
does it require us to implement? ese questions need to be ad-
dressed head-on if the “resilient Sahelian” is to be more than a po-
etic metaphor.
Keywords: resilience, food insecurity, Sahel, vulnerability, capabil-
Este documento examina la gura del “saheliano residente” identi-
cado o buscado por numerosas entidades de ayuda y organismos
nanciadores en África occidental. ¿Contribuye esta noción de re-
siliencia a algo genuinamente nuevo?, y si sí, ¿cómo? ¿Qué desafíos
metodológicos incluye? ¿Puede ser operativizada? Y, sobre todo
¿qué políticas require que implementemos? Estas preguntas tienen
que ser abordadas de frente si el “saheliano resiliente” va a ser más
que una metáfora poética.
Palabras clave: resiliencia, seguridad alimentaria, Sahel, vulnerabi-
lidad, capacidades
1 Benoît Lallau is senior lecturer in economics, at Lille University (France). His research is fo-
cused on vulnerability and resilience in African rural areas. He heads the working group on
resilience within the Clersé (
World Food Policy • Vol. 3, No. 2 / Vol. 4, No. 1 • Fall 2016 / Spring 2017
doi: 10.18278/wfp.
World Food Policy
本文检验了“有适应力的萨赫勒居民”(resilient Sahelian
The aid sector is subject to fash-
ions. And regularly, “experts” are
convinced, or claim to be, that
they have found a framework that will
allow us solve the ills of humanity. In the
2010s, that “miraculous” notion is resil-
ience. is notion came from outside
the aid sector, in two disciplinary elds:
in psychology, it relates to how a person
recovers from a shock or a succession
of unfavorable events (Luthar 2006); in
ecology, it refers to an analysis conduct-
ed to establish if an ecosystem manag-
es, following a disruption, to maintain
its vital functions and to adapt (Holling
1973). e focus of this analysis then
shied to social–ecological systems
combining nature and humans, such
as urban systems (Walker et al. 2004).
Centered on shocks, resilience was rst
used by institutions such as the UNIS-
DR2 in the eld of natural disasters and
2 United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
3 Global Alliance for Resilience in Sahelian areas, implemented by European Union.
their impact on human populations
(UNISDR 2002). It then spread far be-
yond this eld. Initially referring to the
ability to recover from a major shock,
resilience was then also considered to
refer to the capacity to learn and adapt,
particularly in protracted crisis or pov-
erty situations, and to the capacity to
anticipate and prevent. Its wholesale
use has considerably widened deni-
tions of the notion, such as the one used
by AGIR3: “Resilience is the ability of
an individual, a household, a commu-
nity, a country or a region to withstand,
adapt, and quickly recover from stress-
es and shocks such as drought, violence,
conict or natural disaster” (European
Union 2012). It risks becoming a catch-
all notion onto which anyone can proj-
ect whatever meaning they wish.
It can also be seen as the result of
a long process of reection on the ght
against food insecurity and its failures.

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