Sustainability assessment using the SMART farm tool

Sustainability is the buzzword in the current debate about the environmental impact of the agricultural and food sector. The sector needs to become much more sustainable, most experts, practicioners and political decision-makers agree. But how this should be done, continues to cause heated debates. The central question is: how can we produce and provide sufficient healthy and culturally appropriate food for a growing  population in a resource limited world? At the same time, farmers should reduce negative environmental and social impacts of food production. And, as a matter of fact, farmers deserve a decent standard of living and good working conditions. Although conventional agriculture has become more receptive for sustainability principles in recent decades, the consequential costs of damageing the environment and health of consumers ,resulting from intensive production methods, are still very high and are still borne by society.

Organic agriculture is often considered to play a key role in increasing sustainability in food production. Numerous studies have already demonstrated that organic farming contributes to reduce the negative environmental impacts of food production and to make a positive contribution to environmental and climate protection. Better social conditions and higher economic standards (fairness, higher income) are also frequently found in organic farming. This is precisely what the EU Commission has recognized and is calling for an EU-wide increase in the organic share to 25% by 2030 as part of the Farm-to-Fork strategy. SMART

Political and societal interest in sustainability performance has motivated staff at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) to develop the "SMART" method for comprehensive analysis and assessment of farms and companies in the agri-food sector. More than 60 agricultural and sustainability experts contributed to the development of the tool. SMART stands for Sustainability Monitoring and Assessment RouTine and enables sustainability evaluation in the four dimensions "ecological integrity", "economic resilience", "social wellbeing" and "good governance", to be surveyed comparably and evaluated transparently. FiBLSMART is based on sustainability guidelines (see article about SAFA) developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and comprises approximately 300 indicators that are relevant for the goal achievement in 58 subtopics. Each subtopic includes a sustainability goal and each of the indicators has a central and robust influence (impact) on at least one of the 58 sustainability goals.

The tool helps to record, analyze and evaluate on-farm sustainability performance in a systemic way. With the SMART tool, the farm’s entire area of responsibility is taken into account, including, for example, the impacts arising from purchasing inputs or distribution of farm products. In contrast to product-specific assessment approaches such as life cycle assessments (LCA), the SMART Farm tool assesses the sustainability of the entire farming system, including all existing farm sectors. This means that the results of a SMART sustainability analysis are not product-specific assessments, but an assessment of the whole agricultural production system at farm level. The final results of the assessment are presented visually in spider graphs where all four dimensions are included (one example in Figure 1).

 SMART results ecologySMART results themes










Figure 1. SMART Results of farms (lines are two different production systems) with a focus on arable farming and without husbandry. 1. Sustainabilty Themes. 2. Sustainabilty Subthemes of the dimension Environmental Integrity.

SMART was not developed to replace existing certification systems or to establish a new sustainability standard or label. Its purpose is merely to evaluate on-farm sustainability performance. Thus, it can support farmers decision making process in order to improve on-farm sustainability performance. Expertise and experience on sustainability assessment enable FiBL staff members to contribute to the CAPTIVATE project by sharing their insights for the design and development of an Eco-farm Assessment Tool.

CAPTIVATE project, funded under the Erasmus + program of the European Union, is dedicated to knowledge transfer and vocational training of farmers and agricultural advisors related to the current EU strategic lines, such as the Green Deal, Farm to Fork Strategy and Organic Action Plan. One of the CAPTIVATE’s main objectives is that farmers better understand conditionality, eco-scheme and rural development regulations, they choose and participate in the certain schemes with more responsibility and awareness, carrying out the new CAP measures more effectively.

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Authors: Friedrich Leitgeb, Richard Petrasek

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EU funded

Grant programme: Erasmus+ programme (KA220-VET - Cooperation partnerships in vocational education and training)

Project interval: 1 November 2021 / 31 October 2024
Project identifier: Erasmus+ 2021-1-HU01-KA220-VET-000034777

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