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Developing multi-criteria assessments and sustainability indicators in the crop diversification cluster

One of the working groups in the crop diversification cluster focuses on aligning approaches for multi-criteria assessment of system performance at the field, farm, value chain and landscape levels. The working group, which facilitates contacts and interaction among scientists working on multi-criteria assessment and sustainability indicators in the crop diversification cluster, has already made some progress toward this end.

Measuring and benchmarking success or failure is crucial in determining how well agri-food systems are functioning and how effective specific interventions have been. However, classical agricultural productivity measurements do not always accurately portray the benefits and the drawbacks of diversified agri-food systems. Several projects in the crop diversification cluster, namely DiverIMPACTS, Diverfarming, LegValue and TRUE, are trying to address this and are collaborating in the multi-criteria assessment working group.

So far, the working group has conducted an analysis of existing indicators and developed a common set of indicators. The sustainability indicators selected by the cluster projects were grouped into four main pillars (environmental, economic, social, and governance sustainability) and were classified by 19 themes and 58 sub-themes, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture (SAFA) scheme. All indicators were then classified according to the spatial scales at which they operate (plot, field or groups of fields, farm, and territory). Most of the sub-themes addressed by the diversification projects are related to the environmental sustainability pillar, while economic and social sustainability sub-themes were less well addressed because they were highly influenced by other aspects (e.g. see profitability).

The working group has also started to prepare a glossary of common terms that are extensively used in the diversification projects, but often with different meaning. The glossary will first be tested by the cluster members involved in the multi-criteria assessment and sustainability indicators activities. Then, it will be addressed at higher scales and wider audiences.  including the European Commission initiatives and CAP policy assessment.

The next steps for the working group are to complete the matrix of indicators and conduct an overall comparison of similarities and differences between the projects. This ambitious “exercise” will be performed firstly in the frame of the two sister projects DiverIMPACTS and DiverFARMING and the preliminary outcomes will be discussed in the virtual joint meeting of the two projects in June; then eventually enlarged to the other projects of the cluster.

Further information

DiverIMPACTS.net: Minutes from the first working group meeting

Contact: Stefano Canali, DiverIMPACTS