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Final report released on methods of assessing sustainability

15th Apr 2016

The final report of the Ekhaga Sustainability Assessment project has been published.

The project which was run by the Organic Research Centre aimed to provide practical recommendations on the suitability of the available sustainability assessment frameworks, themes, tools and indicators for the organic sector and to help consider and further develop sustainability assessment approaches. 

This was a much needed project.  Sustainability and the need for sustainable production systems is ever more important in a world of global challenges (and that is however you define sustainability).  However the big issue has always been, although its a great and noble ambition, how do you actually measure its happening on the ground? And what can we use as suitable indicators that we are making progress?

The old adage of you can't manage what you don't measure is important as well.  Does it mean that we will all be managers of sustainable farming systems and how will we know if we get there.  Although we may be making progress in modelling and defining indicators that cover the economic and environmental pillars of sustainability where do we stand on the social indicators? And who is setting the targets about where we should be, and whether its achievable to get there?

This report, goes some way into trying to answer some of the questions around methodologies that are specifically applicable to organic and ecological systems and tried to answer some of the questions around any existing trade-offs and relationships between the themes of sustainability.

The report, which can be read in full here, provided some key points.

  • There is need for more work on assessing the synergies and trade offs within sustainable farm practices and whether these are adequately represented by the tools available
  • There is also need for farmers to accept some of the trade offs between economics and the environmental and social factors. This may need to be pushed by policy.
  • The encouraging aspect of this report was the recommendation (and realisation) that priorities need to be set depending on the specific context of the farm (not one size fits all blunt policy).

 

What did the report see as the strengths of the organic sector in sustainable farm management?

These included:

  • biodiversity
  • ecosystem diversity
  • soil quality
  • greenhouse gas emissions

The final recommendation explained that further development of the evidence base to these factors would help publicise the results further.