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Chapter · September 2010
3 authors, including:
Tarbiat Modares University
1 PUBLICATION 10 CITATIONS
57 PUBLICATIONS 473 CITATIONS SEE PROFILE Available from: Ezatollah Karami Retrieved on: 19 May 2016 Measuring Agricultural Sustainability Dariush Hayati, Zahra Ranjbar, and Ezatollah Karami
Sustainability in agriculture is a complex concept and there is no common viewpoint among scholars about its dimensions. Nonetheless various parameters for measuring agricultural sustainability have been proposed. This manuscript reviews some aspects of agricultural sustainability measures by referring to measuring difficulties, components of sustainability measurement and their interaction. Criteria to select sustainability indicators are discussed. Agricultural sustainability scales at national level and farm level are reviewed. A large number of indicators have been developed but they do not cover all dimensions and levels.
Therefore, indicators used for agricultural sustainability should be location specific.
They should be constructed within the context of the contemporary socioeconomic and ecological situation. Some recommendations to select indicators in order to better measure agricultural sustainability are presented.
Keywords Agricultural sustainability • Measuring sustainability • Sustainability indicators • Sustainability components 1 Introduction For any study on sustainable agriculture, the question arises as to how agricultural sustainability can be measured. Some argue that the concept of sustainability is a “social construct” (David 1989; Webster 1999) and is yet to be made operational (Webster 1997). The precise measurement of sustainability is impossible as it is site-specific and a dynamic concept (Ikerd 1993). To some extent, what is defined D. Hayati (*), Z. Ranjbar and E. Karami Department of Agricultural Extension and Education, College of Agriculture, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org E. Lichtfouse (ed.), Biodiversity, Biofuels, Agroforestry and Conservation Agriculture, 73 Sustainable Agriculture Reviews 5, DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-9513-8_2, © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010 74 D. Hayati et al.
as sustainable depends on the perspectives of theanalysts (Webster 1999). Although precise measurement of sustainable agriculture is not possible, “when specific parameters or criteria are selected, it is possible to say whether certain trends are steady, going up or going down” (Pretty 1995).
Practices that erode soil, remove the habitats of insect predators, and cut instead of plant trees can be considered unsustainable compared to those that conserve these resources. According to Altieri (1995), farmers can improve the biological stability and resilience of the system by choosing more suitable crops, rotating them, growing a mixture of crops, and irrigating, mulching and manuring land.
According to Lynam and Herdt (1989), sustainability can be measured by examining the changes in yields and total factor productivity. Beus and Dunlop (1994) considered agricultural practices such as the use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, and maintenance of diversity as measures of sustainability. For sustainable agriculture, a major requirement is sustainable management of land and water resources.
Reviewing the aspects of agricultural sustainability measures, by referring to measuring difficulties, components of sustainability measurement and criteria for indicators selection were the main objectives of this manuscript. It should be declared that the article has inevitably had to take a bias toward cropping because of the huge amount of literature on sustainability indicators in various disciplines.
2 General Issues
Considerable efforts have been made to identify appropriate indicators for agricultural sustainability. In the realm of practice, the most influential model of environmental reporting is the causality chain of Pressure-State-Response (PSR). Although its conceptual development can be traced back to the 1950s, the PSR model was pioneered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (OECD 1991). The PSR model and variants have been extensively used to organise a menu of indicators. Examples of applications include the State-ofEnvironment (SOE) reporting (Australia, Canada and New Zealand) and the set of sustainability indicators proposed by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The latter has been tested in selected developed and developing countries. This sets a new precedent of cross-nation sustainability indicator comparability which has been followed recently by other international initiatives such as the Environmental Sustainability Index and OECD Environmental Performance Review. In effect, indicators become a policy instrument to exert peer pressure among nations to perform better.
Recently, OECD has developed a common framework called “driving force state response” (DSR) to help in developing indicators. Driving force indicators refer to the factors that cause changes in farm management practices and inputs use. State indicators show the effect of agriculture on the environment such as soil, water, air, biodiversity, habitat and landscape. Response indicators refer to the actions that are Measuring Agricultural Sustainability 75 taken in response to the changing state of environment. Using the DSR framework, OECD (1997) identified 39 indicators of issues such as farm financial resources, farm management, nutrient use, pesticide use, water use, soil quality, water quality, land conservation, greenhouse gases, biodiversity, landscape, wildlife habitats, and farm’s contextual information, including socioeconomic background, land-use, and output. Similarly, the British Government suggested 34 indicators under 13 themes such as nutrient losses to fresh water, soil P levels, nutrient management practices, ammonia emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, pesticide use, water use, soil protection, and agricultural land resource, conservation value of agricultural land, environmental management systems, rural economy and energy (MAFF cited in Webster 1999).
Most of the indicators mentioned above are suitable to evaluate agricultural sustainability at aggregate level. They cannot, however, be used to assess sustainability at the farm level, although individual farmers take the major decision in land-use including mode of use and choice of technology (Webster 1999). Sands and Podmore (2000) used environmentally sustainability index (ESI) as an indicator of assessing agricultural sustainability and applied it to farms in the United States. ESI represents a group of 15 sustainability sub-indices including soil depth, soil organic carbon, bulk density and depth of ground water. Tellarini and Caporali (2000) used the monetary value and energy value to compare the sustainability of two farms, high-inputs and low-inputs in Italy. Gowda and Jayaramaiah (1998) used nine indicators, namely integrated nutrient management, land productivity, integrated water management, integrated pest management, input self-sufficiency, crop yield security, input productivity, information self-reliance and family food sufficiency, to evaluate the sustainability of rice production in India. Reijntjes et al.
(1992) identified a set of criteria under ecological, economic and social aspects of agricultural sustainability. Ecological criteria comprise the use of nutrients and organic materials, water, energy, and environmental effects, while economic criteria include farmers’ livelihood systems, competition, factor productivity, and relative value of external inputs. Food security, building indigenous knowledge, and contribution to employment generation are social criteria (Rasul and Thapa 2003).
Various parameters for measuring agricultural sustainability have been proposed by scholars. Their emphasis and tendency has been classified in three groups of components (social, economic, and ecological) as part of a review of literature and the result has been presented in Table 1.
Theoretical discussions are attending the challenges of disciplinary and methodological heterogeneity. The quest to define sustainability through biophysical assessment has brought distributional issues to the fore, initiating preliminary interaction with the social sciences and humanities (see Hezri 2005; Miller 2005).
Another important theoretical output is the availability of various methodologies in aggregating raw and incongruent sustainability variables through indices development.
The existing indicator systems in the realm of policy are becoming instrumental in mainstreaming sustainable development as a policy goal. Following persistent applications across time at various levels of government, the PSR model has pooled 76 D. Hayati et al.
an enormous amount of data previously inaccessible, a prelude for the much needed long-term trend monitoring that is important for governments to prioritize actions.
The recent global interest in ecological monitoring not only contributes in improving information accessibility, but in generating more data for environmental policymaking (Hezri and Dovers 2006).
3 Measuring Difficulties
The multifaceted nature of sustainable agriculture, with three interdependent and interactive components (ecological, social, and economic) causes difficulty in monitoring. Therefore, a number of indicators are currently emerging the measurement of the different components. Norman et al. (1997) noted, at least three major
• The measures currently available generally fall short in terms of assessing the interactions and interdependencies among the three components and the tradeoffs of pursuing one component at the expense of another.
• Many of the measures or indicators currently available are not particularly useful to farmers or are too time-consuming to measure in their day-to-day work, making it difficult for them and their families to monitor progress in terms of agricultural sustainability. This is particularly regrettable because many of the issues relating to sustainable agriculture are location or situation specific.
• Most indicators show progress or no progress towards specific components of sustainability, but they fall short in terms of helping to determine cause/effect relationships to help assess current problems and provide ideas on what needs to be done to ensure continued progress towards sustainability. An additional complication is that some strategies relating to sustainable agriculture require 5–10 years (e.g., a full crop rotation) of implementation before they result in visible or measurable signs of payoff.
Although a large number of indicators have been developed, they do not cover all dimensions and those levels noted in Table 2. Due to variation in biophysical and socioeconomic conditions, indicators used in one country are not necessarily applicable to other countries (Rasul and Thapa 2003). Therefore, indicators should be location specific, constructed within the context of contemporary socioeconomic situation (Dumanski and Pieri 1996).
Moreover, sustainable agriculture is a dynamic rather than static concept. What may contribute towards sustainability today may not work as the system changes, thus requiring a high level of observation and skills that can adapt to change.
Consequently, sustainability is a direction/process and does not by itself result in a final fixed product, making it even more difficult to monitor and/or measure (Norman et al. 1997).
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