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Abstract

Assessing sustainability of agricultural farms is among the most topical issues for researchers, farmers, investors, administrators, politicians, interests groups and public at large. In academic publications, official documents and agricultural practices social, economic and environmental aspects (pillars) of sustainability are assessed, while critical “governance” functions of the farm ignored. Nevertheless, comparative governance efficiency often (pre)determines the overall sustainability of a farm despite its (high) productivity, social responsibility or eco-conservation. Most frameworks usually employ “universal” approach for “faceless” farms and “anonymous” environment despite that real socio-economic, institutional and natural conditions are critical for sustainability. Assessment systems are not hierarchical and lack systemic organization of sustainability components leading to arbitrary selection of indicators. Besides, they are too simplified (few indicators), unilateral (“pure” economic, ecological, etc.), or too complicated and impossible to use. In this presentation we suggest a holistic approach for assessing absolute and comparative sustainability of farms of different juridical type, size, product specialization, ecological and geographical location in Bulgaria. It encompass governance, economic, social, and environmental aspects which are analyzed by a hierarchical system of 12 principles, 21 criteria, 45 indicators and reference values. Study, including 190 typical holdings, has found out that the overall sustainability of Bulgarian farms is good, with superior levels for environmental and social sustainability, and inferior level for governance and economic sustainability. There are great variations in sustainability levels of farms of different type and location as well as in shares of holdings with unlike sustainability level. In conclusion, we make recommendations for improvement of sustainability research and managerial practices.

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