Normative, systemic and procedural aspects: a review of indicator‐based sustainability assessments in agriculture

Several methods for assessing the sustainability of agricultural systems have been developed. These methods do not fully: (i) take into account the multi‐functionality of agriculture; (ii) include multidimensionality; (iii) utilize and implement the assessment knowledge; and (iv) identify conflicting goals and trade‐offs. This paper reviews seven recently developed multidisciplinary indicator‐based assessment methods with respect to their contribution to these shortcomings. All approaches include (1) normative aspects such as goal setting, (2) systemic aspects such as a specification of scale of analysis, (3) a reproducible structure of the approach. The approaches can be categorized into three typologies. The top‐down farm assessments focus on field or farm assessment. They have a clear procedure for measuring the indicators and assessing the sustainability of the system, which allows for benchmarking across farms. The degree of participation is low, potentially affecting the implementation of the results negatively. The top‐down regional assessment assesses the on‐farm and the regional effects. They include some participation to increase acceptance of the results. However, they miss the analysis of potential trade‐offs. The bottom‐up, integrated participatory or transdisciplinary approaches focus on a regional scale. Stakeholders are included throughout the whole process assuring the acceptance of the results and increasing the probability of implementation of developed measures. As they include the interaction between the indicators in their system representation, they allow for performing a trade‐off analysis. The bottom‐up, integrated participatory or transdisciplinary approaches seem to better overcome the four shortcomings mentioned above.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-26

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