What exactly qualifies as sustainable agriculture? The Sustainable Agriculture Matrix (SAM) is a newly published tool that assesses the agricultural sustainability of a specific country, while taking into account environmental, social, and economic impact.
Sustainable agriculture is key to a sustainable future for this planet. At the same time, agriculture is relevant to everyone, not only farmers. It is a joint responsibility to make sure that agriculture can continue to feed a growing population in a way that causes minimal damage to the planet, while remaining beneficial for society and the economy.
The SAM project began in 2017, led by the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science, in collaboration with 30 other stakeholders worldwide – including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Oxfam, and a multitude of universities.
The goal of the SAM is to help organizations and governments evaluate progress within a country, find areas that require improvement, encourage accountability and provide data to guide national and international policies around agriculture.
So what does the SAM measure? The matrix takes into account 18 indicators that measure the impact of agriculture on the environment, economy, and society at large. The indicators include among others: total greenhouse gas emission, soil erosion, total agricultural export values as a percentage of agricultural GDP, access to finance for farmers, food affordability by low-income population, prevalence of under-nourishment.
Importantly, this first version of SAM identifies trade-offs, where these indicators are not compatible, and synergies (where they are compatible), and how those vary per country. As the authors discuss, one change in agriculture can lead to impact across all three dimensions (sustainability, economy, society) for the better or worse. For example, they found that in many countries an increase in government support and trade openness are not linked to reduction of under-nourished population. It is crucial to map and investigate such trade-offs when looking at the entire impact of agriculture.
Where is the consumer?
Even though the matrix does take into account the societal impact of a country’s agricultural system, it does not consider the consumer perspective specifically. Consumers are a central stakeholder in the food chain, and their role in the sustainable food-chain needs to be understood better. In order for sustainable agriculture to be successful, it needs to appeal to consumers. Whether it is the quality of the produce, the price, or its perceived sustainability, the consumer needs to perceive the added value in order to support sustainable agricultural
Read more about the SAM here.
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