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Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture? Check.

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grain.jpgWould introducing irrigation on a particular farm increase or decrease its overall sustainability? How about using genetically modified crops, hiring local workers, increasing mechanization? The ability to answer questions like these correctly is critical as we work to boost food production to meet the needs of a growing global population without compromising the well-being of people or the planet. Yet it's also a huge challenge. Literally thousands of indexes have been developed to assess the sustainability of agricultural systems - yet none has been found sufficiently simple and useful to gain widespread acceptance.

Until now. Taking a cue from Harvard Medical School faculty member Atul Gawande, famous for his application of checklists to improving safety of surgery, IonE resident fellow C. Ford Runge and co-author Juan Gonzalez-Valero have developed an innovative sustainability index for agriculture that provides a simple, measurable and on-the-ground applicable protocol for ranking the sustainability of agricultural projects.

Known as the integrated sustainability index, the evaluation framework uses a 1-10 scale to incorporate various indicators of sustainability along three dimensions:

resource efficiency index - weighing benefits of increased agricultural production against impacts on soil, water and biodiversity

better solutions index - weighing benefits of increased reliable profitability to farmers against impacts on human health and safety

rural economy index - weighing benefits of increased human development in rural economies against the extent to which benefits are shared broadly in the community

The result is a clear depiction of the merits of a proposed farming system with respect to the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainability that can:

  • - help planners visualize trade-offs when comparing options or approaches
  • - show how the relative balance of production, environmental impact and social impact change over time
  • - show progress toward sustainability
  • - bring considerations to planners' attention that might otherwise escape notice.

Like to learn more? Check out The Theory and Practice of Performance Indicators for Sustainable Food Security: A Checklist Approach - just published in Environmental Economics, Vol. 2, Issue 4, 2011.

IonE resident fellow C. Ford Runge is a distinguished McKnight University professor of applied economics and law. He holds appointments in the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and the Department of Forest Resources, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

4 Comments

The above link for the theory and practice article doesn't work. :(

Courtney, thanks for letting me know. It should work now.

The above link for the theory and practice article doesn't work. :(

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  • Mary Hoff: Thank you for your comment, and apologies for the difficulty. read more
  • العاب بنات: The above link for the theory and practice article doesn't read more
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This page contains a single entry by Mary Hoff published on January 4, 2012 8:01 AM.

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