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Guidelines for Sustainability Assessment in Food and Agriculture


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El Hage, Nadia (2012) Guidelines for Sustainability Assessment in Food and Agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome.

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The ecological, economic and social principles of sustainable development (WCED, 1987) received nearly universal agreement during and following the 1992 Earth Summit. One of the summit‘s major outcomes, Agenda 21, includes a whole chapter (Chapter 14) on sustainable agriculture and rural development. Much progress has been made in the past two decades. For most social and economic Millennium Development Goals, improvements have been substantial (UN, 2011). Global per capita Gross National Income has more than doubled between 1992 and 2010 (from 5,035 current interna-tional USD at PPP to 11,058; World Bank, 2011). Yet, reaching the poorest, all over the world, re-mains a challenge (UN, 2011) and it is today generally recognised that GDP growth alone is not a sufficient indicator of development progress. The number of undernourished people was estimated by FAO to be 925 million in 2010. This figure has increased by 75 million people since 1990-92 (FAO, 2010a). Rockström et al. (2009) estimate that humanity has transgressed three of the environmental planetary boundaries within which we can operate safely, namely for climate change, biodiversity loss and changes to the global nitrogen cycle. Boundaries for ocean acidification and possibly the global phosphorus cycle might also be close to being crossed.global phosphorus cycle might also be close to being crossed.
As agricultural land and forests occupy more than 60% of terrestrial surface, and fishery activities can be found on virtually any water body, agriculture, forestry and fisheries are major contributors to the ecological footprint of humanity. For example, 31% of global greenhouse gas emissions have been attributed to agriculture and forestry (IPCC, 2007). Agriculture alone accounts for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals (FAO, 2011). On the other hand, farming, animal husbandry, forestry and fisheries produce the food and renewable materials basis of humanity’s existence and provide liveli-hoods to more than 2.6 billion people (FAOSTAT, 2011), including many of the world’s poor. One approach to tackle the risk of the human economy’s overstraining the capacities of Earth’s eco-systems is the concept of a “Green Economy”5 that respects planetary boundaries and adopts eco-efficiency as a guiding principle. This concept brings about major challenges in relation with freedom and distributional equity (UNDP, 2011). The translation of the green economy concept for the food and agriculture sector is reflected through the GEA concept that recognises the need to take an eco-system- and rights-based approach to development, according to specific country circumstances (FAO, 2012a). The challenge of delivering sustainability lies in an effective integration of the envi-ronmental, economic and social dimensions of development. This can be only achieved through good governance. Need for a common language Recent years have seen the development of frameworks, initiatives, standards and indicators for assessing and improving the environmental and social impacts of human activities. More than one hundred countries have established national strategies for sustainable development, as well as sets of sustainability targets and indicators (UN, 2007). Thousands of companies have adopted concepts such as corporate social responsibility, creating shared value, responsible supply chain management and the triple bottom line6. These concepts are put into practice through internal management, B2B and B2C communication. Systems for independent, third-party verification, certification and accredi-tation have been put in place.Of the many verification systems, tools, databases and other approaches for measuring, communi-cating and improving sustainability, environmental impact or social impact, respectively, few cover the whole value chain and all dimensions of sustainability at the same time (Appendix A). In the de-velopment and application of sustainability systems and frameworks, SME and stakeholders from developing and emerging countries are less represented than large companies and stakeholders from industrialised countries, in spite of many systems’ building on transparent, participative mechanisms. Despite the valuable efforts for making sustainability assessments in the food and agriculture sector accurate and easy to manage, no internationally accepted benchmark unambiguously defines what sustainable food production entails. There also is no widely accepted definition of the minimum re-quirements that would allow a company to qualify as sustainable.
FAO and the SAFA Guidelines.In order to offer a fair playing field, FAO has built on existing efforts and developed the present Guidelines for Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA) as part of its efforts for the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD). In line with the FAO mandate, the vision of the SAFA Guidelines is to contribute to a sustainable development of the food and agriculture sector. This shall be achieved by enhancing the measurability of sustainability per-formance and the accessibility and transparency of sustainability measurements. The SAFA Guide-lines provide a benchmark that defines what sustainable production is, and a template for agriculture and food sustainability assessment, for the use by primary producers, food manufacturers and retail-ers who wish to substantiate sustainability claims. Existing sustainability indicator systems and as-sessment tools can be related to the content of the SAFA Guidelines.

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:Sustainability, Sustanable Agriculture, Nachhaltigkeit, Nachhaltigkeistanalyse
Subjects: Values, standards and certification
Food systems > Produce chain management
Research affiliation: International Organizations > Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO
Deposited By: Schader, Dr. Christian
ID Code:21169
Deposited On:01 Nov 2012 08:12
Last Modified:08 Nov 2012 12:24
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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