Farm sustainability assessment tools – examples and relevance

Farmers and their farms play a crucial role in the transition towards more sustainable agriculture and food systems. Recognizing the urgent need for increasing resilience of socio-economic and ecological systems, we must consider sustainability assessment as an auspicious instrument for improving decision-making strategies at farm level to facilitate sustainable change. Applying assessment tools generates information for decision makers and ensures that decisions are taken with the highest possible accuracy. However, sustainability assessment at farm level is a challenging task due to complex interactions of the diverse parameters influencing agricultural production, such as soil conditions, weather conditions or availability of farm inputs. Many assessment tools have been developed in order to respond to such diverse parameters. Such tools are often used for assessing strength and weaknesses of farm operations and for policy advice. Nowadays, there are various tools available to support on-farm sustainability assessments and decision making processes, but suitability for the own purpose and farm specific conditions needs to be checked beforehand.

Like there are various tools available, there are also numerous ways to categorize assessment tools. Sustainability assessment at farm level can roughly be divided into full sustainability assessment and rapid sustainability assessment. For a full sustainability assessment, detailed farm data and expert information are required. Such assessments are cost and time intensive, and therefore not always feasible. Whereas rapid assessments make use of farmer’s knowledge and already available farm data. The farmer himself or an advisor can realize the assessment without previous training. Which assessment strategy is most suitable for a given purpose and setting, depends on availability of data, time and budget.  The data necessary for the assessment derives from face-to-face interviews or/and from available farm databases like the EU Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN).

Due to the large number of available sustainability assessment tools, only few of them are presented here (see table 1). Probably the most widely known tool for on-farm assessment is the Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture (SAFA), published in 2013 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The Sustainability Monitoring and Assessment Routine (SMART)-Farm Tool is based on SAFA guidelines and was developed by the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Farming (FiBL) few years later. Like SAFA, also SMART is based on four dimensions of sustainability (good governance, environmental integrity, economic resilience, social well-being). With the RISE method (Response-Inducing Sustainability Evaluation), developed by the University of Applied Life Sciences in Bern, Switzerland, on-farm sustainability can be evaluated and communicated for consultancy, education and farm development. The French IDEA method (Indicateurs de Durabilité des Exploitations Agricoles[1]) is a self-assessment grid covering three dimensions of sustainability. Finally, the KSNL (Kriteriensystem nachhaltige Landwirtschaft[2]) was also developed for on-farm sustainability assessment reflecting specific conditions in Germany.

Table 1 Selection of best practice sustainability assessment tools

Tool name

Time requirements

Language

Purpose

Source

SAFA

2h- several weeks

English

internal management and learning

https://www.fao.org/nr/sustainability/sustainability-assessments-safa/en/

SMART

2-5h

English, German,  Czech, Finnish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Spanish

farm assessment, monitoring, benchmarking

https://www.sustainable-food-systems.com/

RISE

5-9h

English, German, Danish, French, Polish, Spanish, Turkish, Ukrainian

consultancy and farm development

https://www.bfh.ch/en/research/reference-projects/rise/

IDEA

3-4h

French, English

teaching sustainability, decision support

https://methode-idea.org/en/

KSNL

1-10 weeks

German

farm assessment, monitoring

https://www.ktbl.de/themen/ksnl

 

The assessment tools presented here are inspiring examples for developing a farmer-centered assessment and training system, including an Eco-Farm Assessment and Decision (EAD) tool, within the framework of the CAPTIVATE project (CAP Transfer of Information Via Assessment, Training and Extension). The project aims to connect the EU’s new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) requirements with proven, innovative, sustainable eco-management practices, in favour of better implementation of the various measures, increased uptake of support, improved efficiency in production and protection of the natural environment.

Authors: Friedrich Leitgeb, Richard Petrasek

 

[1] Farm Sustainability Indicators

[2] System of Criteria for Sustainable Agriculture

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