For the first time, scientists have developed a quantitative assessment of the sustainability of agriculture for countries around the world, based not only on environmental impacts, but also on economic and social impacts. The Sustainable Agriculture Matrix, or SAM, provides independent and transparent measures of agricultural sustainability at the national level that can help governments and organizations assess progress, encourage accountability, identify priorities for improvement, and inform policies. and national actions towards sustainable agriculture around the world.
“This Sustainable Agriculture Matrix is an effort to promote accountability for nations’ commitments to sustainable agriculture,” said project leader Xin Zhang of the Center for Environmental Sciences at the University of Maryland. “We hope this can serve as a tool to bring stakeholders together. Agricultural production is not just about farmers. It is about everyone.”
Agriculture is fundamental for sustainability. However, the definition of “sustainable agriculture” and the ability to measure it has been difficult to quantify. The Sustainable Agriculture Matrix creation project started in 2017 by bringing together around 30 stakeholders and experts from around the world, including Oxfam, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the International Institute for Policy Research Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Organization, as well as academic partners such as University College London, University of Queensland, University of California at Berkeley and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences – to assess the impacts of the agricultural production at the national level around a wide range of environmental factors, economic and social dimensions of sustainability.
“Sustainable agriculture is a very complex concept and it means different things to different people, which makes it difficult to assess,” said Zhang. “To make the commitment to responsible sustainable agriculture, independent and transparent measures of country sustainability are essential. “
“Assessing sustainability is not easy, especially given the paucity of social data in all countries. We hope that with this matrix, we can demonstrate the value of increased investment in social data to assess how agriculture affects and contributes to social equity as a critical dimension of agricultural sustainability, ”said the co -author Kimberly Pfeifer of Oxfam America.
Globally, agriculture faces the challenge of increasing productivity to meet the growing demand of the population for food, materials and energy. Nations are responsible for developing a sustainable agricultural sector that is not only productive, but also nutritionally adequate, compatible with healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, and resilient. As a result, sustainable agriculture was included in the Sustainable Development Goals ratified by all member countries of the United Nations in 2015.
The first edition of the matrix is made up of 18 indicators that measure the direct impacts of agricultural production on the environment and the economy, and broader impacts on the whole of society, recognizing that agriculture is deeply interconnected with other sectors. In this first edition, the focus is on identifying tradeoffs between performance indicators, such as improving economic performance and reducing environmental performance, as well as some less common examples of tradeoffs such as increasing agricultural subsidies do not necessarily improve human nutrition.
“There have been no efforts that provide a comprehensive overview of the three dimensions of agricultural impacts for countries around the world,” said co-author Eric Davidson of the University’s Environmental Science Center. from Maryland. “The concept behind this matrix is the recognition that the agricultural system can have multiple impacts on sustainability. “
For example, while agricultural production can provide dynamic economic benefits to the farming community and national economic development, it can also add stress on the environment in terms of water use, nutrient pollution and loss of biodiversity. How and if the national agricultural sector provides sufficient and healthy food for its own population can influence social equality.
“Comprehensive assessment of the sustainability of a country’s agriculture provides an excellent opportunity to reveal the full range of potential trade-offs, as well as synergies, between several sustainability goals, and enables informed choices in light of local priorities. or policies, ”said co-author Amy Heyman of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“While most countries have demonstrated strong tradeoffs between the environmental and economic dimensions of agricultural sustainability, some countries, such as the United States, are showing promising signs of synergies between improving agricultural productivity and reducing agricultural productivity. of environmental impacts, ”said co-author Guolin Yao. from the Center for Environmental Sciences at the University of Maryland.
“I want to broaden the vision of farm management. It’s not just about what happens on the farm, but what happens in the market, in political debates and on our plates. The choices consumers make on a daily basis have a fundamental impact on what happens. product, as well as where and how it is produced, ”Zhang said.
“The Green Revolution has enabled humanity to nurture enormous population growth over the past decades, but it has come at the cost of significant environmental impacts and neglect of human nutrition and welfare. -be general, ”said co-author Kyle Davis of the University of Delaware. “Our SAM approach is a promising step beyond the shortcomings of the green revolution while trying to build on past successes in global agriculture.”
In a next step, the SAM consortium, a project funded by the Belmont Forum, is launched with six pilot countries and regions, including the United States, Austria, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. The consortium will use the first edition of the SAM indicators as a starting point to initiate conversations and coordination among stakeholders, and to co-develop country cases to identify strategies towards sustainable agriculture.
“The assessment is an important first step towards agricultural sustainability, especially in marginal production areas in Africa,” said Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, SAM consortium partner, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
“It is a useful starting point not only for assessing progress, but also for identifying priorities for improvement and for informing national policies and actions in favor of sustainable agriculture,” said Christian Folberth, co- author and partner of the SAM consortium, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
Funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Matrix effort was provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center. More information on the SAM project is available here: http://research.al.umces.edu/sam/