You are here: ILREconomic and Agricultural PolicyResearch RCR


RCR - Resilience, Collapse and Reorganisation in Social-Ecological Systems of East- and South Africa's Savannahs

DFG Research Unit (Forschergruppe) FOR 1501

Duration first phase: 2010 - 2013

Duration second phase: 2013 - 2016


The research unit (RU) is a joint project between the Universities of Cologne and Bonn and will investigate resilience, collapse and reorganisation in complex coupled social-ecological systems (SES) in Africa. Contemporary research shows that Africa is comprehensively affected by environmental transformations, but that societies, economies and environments are also massively impacted by forces of internal mobility and differentiation, violent conflict, economic globalisation and global environmental governance. We acknowledge that Africa-related pessimism has deep historical roots and that numerous allegedly catastrophic environmental shifts were rather based on the wish for political control of rural populations than on factual observation. However, we surmise that the present social and ecological challenges are path-breaking and lead to profound transformations of African SES. The savannahs of South and East Africa and especially wetlands within these drylands seem particularly suited to study these processes. On the one hand, savannahs are inherently unstable systems due to major variability of precipitation. On the other hand, pertinent processes of land use change (e.g. land reform in South Africa, voluntary sedentarisation in East Africa) and globalisation (e.g. establishment of horticultural industries in wetlands of East Africa, savannah and wetland orientated conservation efforts and tourism) currently affect savannah systems and the wetlands embedded within them profoundly.

The initial funding period (2010-2013) of the research unit (RU) investigated resilience, collapse and reorganization in complex coupled social-ecological systems (SES) in eastern and southern Africa. The second phase (2013-2016) aims at advancing the current debates on changes in human-environment relations. In contrast to mainstream resilience research (Resilience Alliance 2008), the RU focuses on the system concept while taking a critical look at simplistic notions of spatial boundedness and instead emphasizes cross-scale interactions and multi-scale level analysis of resilience applying an interdisciplinary approach. The RU rejects simplistic neo-Malthusian approaches and advocates a non-deterministic dependency of components of SES, while emphasizing the role of agency and power in the formation of resilience in the context of system change and transformations in SES. Thus, phase two has a stronger focus on regulative regimes and dynamics of scale, while incorporating the research results of the first phase.

For details on the research unit, see RCR's website

Contribution of ILR

ILR hosts sub-project B2:

Resilience of SES from a Resource-Economics Perspective

Compared to the vast number of theoretical and conceptual studies, empirical work to assess the resilience of SES still seems to be in an exploratory phase. B2 addressed this problem during the first phase of the research unit (RU, FOR 1501) by developing data based numerical simulation models. The overall research objective of B2 for the second phase is to empirically assess the resilience of SES in Kenya (Lake Naivasha Basin) and South Africa (communal livestock systems in Thaba Nchu and Kuruman) using these further developed and integrated numerical simulation models. In Kenya, the hydro-economic basin model will be developed into a conceptually innovative simultaneous multi-agent model to simulate institutional deficiencies in the water management of the Lake Naivasha basin. Multi-period simulations will be carried out for different institutional settings for water management with the purpose of quantifying the resilience of the Lake Naivasha Basin SES towards meteorological shocks such as multi-annual droughts. For South Africa, the same overarching objective is pursued by conducting a comparative analysis of two SES on the same scale (community-rangeland SES), subject to identical macro-economic disturbances from outside the system boundaries (change in subsidization). Communal production systems in Thaba Nchu (grassland biome) and Kuruman (savannah biome) will be investigated in a comparative, computational case study approach. By means of simulation experiments with multi-agent systems, differences in multi-scale SES resilience will be related to specifics of the local context. Moreover, the comparative approach allows for partial extensions of theories, which are thus far only case specific, because of the similarities of the two SES being studied. The coupling of these models with those of A3 (crop science group) is central to collaboration efforts. Two junior researchers will work in this project, one in Kenya and on in South Africa.

Research proposal of sub-project B2 for second phase

Principal investigators

Prof. Dr. Thomas Heckelei, ILR, University of Bonn
Prof. Dr. Karin Holm-Müller, ILR, University of Bonn (First Phase)

Research fellow

Dr. Arnim Kuhn, ILR, University of Bonn

PhD students

M.Sc. Dipl.-ing.agr. Sebastian Rasch, ILR, University of Bonn


    Rasch, S., Heckelei, T., Oomen, R., Naumann, C. (2015): Cooperation and collapse in a communal livestock production SES model – A case from South Africa , Environmental Modelling & Software (in press) , Link.

    Kuhn, A., Britz, W., Willy, D. K., van Oel, P. (2014): Simulating the viability of water institutions under volatile rainfall conditions – The case of the Lake Naivasha Basin, Environmental Modelling & Software (in press) , Link.

    Britz, W., Ferris, M.C., Kuhn, A. (2013): Modeling Water Allocation Institutions based on Multiple Optimization Problems with Equilibrium Constraints. Environmental Modelling and Software, 46: 196-207.

    Kuhn, A., van Oel, P. and F. Meins (2012): The Lake Naivasha Hydro-Economic Basin Model (LANA-HEBAMO) - A Technical Documentation. DFG Research Unit 1501, Sub-Project B2, Technical Paper 10/2012. Download paper

    Kuhn A., Britz W. (2012): Can hydro-economic river basin models simulate water shadow prices under asymmetric access? Water Science & Technology 66(4): 879-886. doi:10.2166/wst.2012.251

    Kyalo-Willy, Holm-Mueller, K. (2013): Social influence and collective action effects on farm level soil conservation effort in rural Kenya, Ecological Economics 90: 94-103.

    Kyalo-Willy, D. Kuhn A., Holm-Mueller, K. (2012): Payments for Environmental Services (PES) and the Characteristics of Social Ecological Systems: the Case of Lake Naivasha Basin. Discussion Paper 2012, Series Food and Resource Economics, University of Bonn. Download paper

    Last updated: Tuesday, August 18, 2015