Global environmental, social and economic challenges urge agriculture to develop towards more sustainable modes of production. To support decision making towards sustainable development, a large number of sustainability assessment tools have been developed. These tools operationalize the concept of sustainable development at farm-level by assessing the performance of farms on a wide range of indicators. The assessment results could be used by farmers to identify local solutions to global sustainability challenges. Although the number of tools is rapidly increasing, concerns are raised whether current sustainability assessments actually contribute to sustainable development in practice. This study compared tools in practice to gain insight into their practical requirements, procedures and relevance perceived by farmers. Of 48 indicator-based sustainability assessment tools, only four tools (RISE, SAFA, PG and IDEA) complied to the selection criteria and were applied to assess the sustainability performance of five Danish farms. The comparison revealed differences between tools in the assessment time, data requirements, and scoring and aggregation methods. Critical factors in the farmers’ perception of tool relevance were context specificity, user-friendliness, complexity and language use. Moreover, a match between value judgements of tool developers and farmers on what can be considered as sustainable agriculture, is critical for the acceptance and implementation of conclusions derived from sustainability assessments. Farmers in this study emphasized the importance of a context-specific approach to farm-level sustainability assessments, in other words, a tool that is sensitive to regional sustainability challenges and norms. Although context-specific assessments are expected to provide outcomes that match the context in which the farmer is operating, thereby, stimulating farmers in taking action to improve the sustainability performance of their farm, such an approach risks neglecting global sustainability issues. Further research is needed to identify approaches to balance global and local sustainability issues while maintaining farmer’s interest and motivation towards sustainable development.
1 Sept 2017
Awarded at event
EAAP 68th Annual Meeting of the Animal Science (EAAP)