Linking Farm-Level Measurement Systems to Environmental Sustainability Outcomes: Challenges and Ways Forward
Agriculture has a significant impact on the natural environment. Several converging trends make it difficult for the world's farmers to keep up with the growth in food demand from rising populations and changes in consumption patterns. Many unresolved issues require understanding of the links among farm-level practices and outcomes and impacts at different scales and time frames, including cumulative effects. This paper looks at information needs and information generation at various levels, exploring the issues and the information infrastructure requirements for sharing and understanding the links between farm-level practices and higher-scale outcomes. Opportunities exist to link the data from the hundreds of metric initiatives in existence or in development, operating across scales; however, attempts to date have been limited due to different interpretations of "sustainable agriculture" and multiple conceptual frameworks for organizing and orienting the development of criteria and indicators. Users have different approaches and information needs, and uses for the indicators differ. Our key recommendations for ways forward include standardized terminology and common conceptual frameworks, coordination and integration of metric initiatives, use of criteria and indicator-development standards, and investment in capacity development at all levels. A stepwise, evolutionary approach to measurement, reporting and verification systems should focus on a few strategic indicators as a starting point, embedded in a broad conceptual framework.