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Assessing sustainability in agricultural landscapes: a review of approaches

Updated: Jul 5, 2018

Research team meeting with farmers in the Yaqui Valley of Mexico

Research and development agencies as well as policy makers and agri-food enterprises need reliable data to support informed decisions that can improve the sustainability of agricultural landscapes. We present a review of agricultural sustainability assessment frameworks (ASAF) that identifies the features most relevant to monitoring progress towards sustainability goals for agricultural landscapes. This qualitative review considers a variety of approaches for defining goals and for selecting stakeholders, spatial and temporal boundaries, indicators, and analytical approaches. We focused on assessment frameworks that 1) include environmental, social, and economic implications of agriculture, 2) are applicable to multiple, non-specified farm system types, 3) are described in an English language, peer-reviewed publication, 4) have been developed for use at a farm system to regional spatial scale, 5) engage stakeholders, 6) provide case studies, and 7) could be used in a variety of contexts across the globe. Based on the review, we provide recommendations for further development and use of assessment frameworks to better address the needs of agricultural research, extension, and development organizations. We recommend an agro-ecosystem approach to help stakeholders identify appropriate indicators for their situation. Assessment methods need to be flexible enough for adaptation to a spectrum of agricultural landscapes and changing environmental conditions, and remain relevant as farmers and other stakeholders acquire new information, resources, and different management techniques. We find that to address information gaps across different scales from farm to region will require creativity and some reliance on local knowledge systems to support adaptive management. Assessment results should communicate relationships among ecosystem services and socio-economic activities affected by agricultural landscapes. Visualization tools can facilitate understanding of trade-offs and synergies among sustainability goals as reflected by individual indicators.

Eichler Inwood SE, Lopez-Ridaura S, Kline KL, Gerard B, Gardeazabal Monsalue A, Govaerts B, Dale VH. In press. Assessing sustainability in agricultural landscapes: a review of approaches. Environmental Review.


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