Did you know that the average young farmers in Canada is 55 and 57 in British Columbia? According to the Census of Agriculture, there is an increasing aging population in the farming industry, due to the high capital cost, competitiveness and unstable commodity prices.
In our LFS 350 CBEL project, we have partnered with Young Agrarians (YA) to create a list of recommendations for them to develop a sustainability impact dashboard with an aim to promote agroecology to new entrants to agriculture, to investors and hopefully to policy makers. YA is an amazing NGO that provides a network for new and young sustainable and organic farmers. YA’s aim is to grow the next generation of ecological farmers in Canada. In order to meet this mission, YA coordinates a collaborative network strategy to build participatory community engagement and deliver educational programs to farmers. Agroecological farming takes a holistic approach in tackling food insecurity and food sovereignty issues, with the use of local knowledge and natural resources in using methods that promote healthy environments and communities. As we see agroecology as a beneficial asset, a sustainability impact dashboard will help YA to assess the 3 pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic impacts of agroecologial farming operations. This concept not only promotes environmental justice and natural resources stewardship but also takes full consideration of the society’s interests. Furthermore, in order to achieve the aim of the project, our group has developed a list of objectives:
1. To create a list of sustainability indicators and recommendations to include in the sustainability impact dashboard for YA
2. To research other companies or organizations who have made successful sustainability dashboards and learn from their challenges and successes
Thus, based on the information above our guiding question for our literature research is:
What are the environment, social and economic Indicators to be presented in the Sustainability Dashboard?
With this in mind, we have decided to conduct a literature review to analyze peer-reviewed articles, journals, government statistics and existing survey results. The literature review is a systematic approach to document and evaluate the benefits of agroecological farming operation based on the 3 pillars of sustainability: Environmental, Economical and Social. For each pillar, we entered key words such as “agroecological”, “indicators” and “sustainability” to help us refine our research results. The criteria for choosing the indicators needs to be sound, simple to calculate, and easy to interpret and use by decision-makers. Once a set of indicators have been collected, they were then grouped into their respective social, economical and environmental sustainability criteria and presented in a table format. The table consist of 4 columns that represents Category, principle, criteria and indicators for data analysis and data collection.
Framing of our categories was based on Sustainability Assessment of Farming and the Environment (SAFE) proposed by Cauwenbergh et al. (2006). The first layer of the framework includes the 3 categories of sustainability: environmental social and economic. The second component includes principles and consists of general conditions in a sustainable agricultural system and account for the all the pieces in that system. A third component is criteria that describe the desired state of the principle when it is managed sustainably. The last component in our results are indicators, which consist of quantitative and qualitative variables that assess a certain criterion. The results are presented in the table below.
|Environmental sustainability||Soil||Soil erosion is minimized
Soil quality is maintained
|Nitrogen fertiliser use
Emission of greenhouse gases
Emission of ozone depleting gases
Emission of acidifying gases
Emission of nitrifying substances
Emission of pesticides
Emission concerning terrestrial eco-toxicity
Emission concerning aquatic eco-toxicity
Emission concerning human toxicity
Waste production and utilisation
|Air||Air quality is maintained or enhanced|
|Water||Water quality is maintained
|Biodiversity||Agricultural biodiversity is maintained or enhanced
Natural biodiversity is maintained
|Input use||External inputs use is minimized||Use of non-renewable energy
Use of other non renewable resources
Dependency on external finance Adaptability to market demand
|Total sales per farm per year
Average sales per farm per year
Total purchases per farm per year
Total farm jobs per year
|Market activities are optimal||Total food bought locally per tear
Buyers’ jobs per year
|Social sustainability||Food security and safety||Production of food is aligned with society’s demand||Total annual amount of food production|
|Quality and Quantity of Food Production||Qualitatively analyze the community’s satisfaction on the production of food|
|Diversity and Culturally acceptable food|
|Working and Living
|Farmer income sustained or enhanced||Impact of income on the farmer’s lifestyle and living conditions|
well-being of Farmers
|Farmers are satisfied
Cultural, spiritual and aesthetic value features are maintained
|Qualitatively analyze the success of the farmers
Qualitative analysis of acceptance of food for cultural and traditional use
According to Cauwenbergh et al. the benefits of using the SAFE approach is that it is holistic with regard to inclusivity of all the three pillars of sustainability, as well as hierarchically structured to enable organization of information in order of sustainability level and includes the qualitative criteria for a sustainable agricultural system, such as soil, water and air quality, as well as the quantitative measurements needed to assess these conditions. However we have also adapted to better suit YA’s needs and have added indicators from reliable sources, such as those proposed by van der Werf, Hayo and Patit (2001) and from the Regional Food Systems Working Groups (RFSWG) economic 2013 impact report. We also recommended an impact dashboard design based on the one used by Five Borough Farm’s impact dashboard. Although this is a dashboard for the impact of urban farming, we like it, because of it can be easily read and interpreted, and because we think it could be easily adapted to account all of the ongoing activities in agroecology.
In this project, we wanted to find indicators of sustainability that will help Young Agrarians to create a sustainability dashboard to promote agroecology. We found several indicators for each of the pillars of sustainability that we framed using the SAFE approach. Based on our research we also recommend a dashboard design similar to that of Five Borough Farm. We are also recommending several next steps to YA. First, to further analyze methods for data collection for each indicator. Second, to analyze on-farm activities that could be presented on the final sustainability dashboard. Lastly, to further analyze reference values for the chosen indicators that will allow comparison to a desirable level of sustainability.
The “What, So What and Now what” analysis has served a powerful approach to reflect on our learning experience
What? b Our final project is a bit different from what Sara has originally communicated to us in terms of both content and scope.
So what? Sara, our community partner, explained that wanted an environmental impact dashboard, but we have provided indicator for a sustainability dashboard. Because agroecology is guided by principles that aim for sustainability in all three pillars- environmental, social and economic we agreed that it would be a good idea to account for all three pillars, instead of just the environmental pillar. This meant that instead of creating an environmental impact dashboard, we have created a sustainability dashboard. We have also realized that creating a dashboard is a complex process that require more time than we have in the term to complete the project, so we needed to limit the scope of our project to just recommendations of indicators.
Now What? Our work on the project has taught us several things: first, when working in the community, it is important to use an asset based community development approach. We have used this concept many times throughout this term, but here we want to apply to both the need to listen to your community partner’s needs in order to be able to produce a positive outcome for them, as well as to need to acknowledge our strengths (and limitations) and utilize these to produce the best outcome possible by the group. We feel that the knowledge and skilled that we learned during our work on the project will benefit us in future work with communities, as we work to increase food sovereignty and food security.
Bregendahl, C., & Enderton, A. (2014). Impact brief: 2013 economic impacts of Iowa’s regional food systems working group. ( Iowa, United States of America. Regional Food Systems Working Group). Retrieved from http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/pubs-and-papers/2013-11-2012-economic-impacts-iowas-regional-food-systems-working-group.pdf
Cauwenbergh, N. V., Biala, K., Bielders, C., Brouckaert, V., Franchois, L., Cidad, V. G., . . . Peeters, A. (2007). SAFE—A hierarchical framework for assessing the sustainability of agricultural systems. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 120(2-4), 229-242. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2006.09.006
2011 Census of Agriculture. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2016, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/ca2011/index
Mathie, A., & Cunningham, G. (2003). From clients to citizens: Asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development. Development in Practice, 13(5), 474-486. doi:10.1080/0961452032000125857
Sinek Simon: How great leaders inspire action. Sinek, S. (Director). (2009, September). [Video/DVD]. Retried from https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action
Impact of Urban Agriculture (n.d.). [Metrics Framework n.d.]. Five Boroughs farm – Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in NYC. Retrieved from http://www.fiveboroughfarm.org/impact/
van der Werf, Hayo M.G, & Petit, J. (2002). Evaluation of the environmental impact of agriculture at the farm level: A comparison and analysis of 12 indicator-based methods. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 93(1), 131-145. doi:10.1016/S0167-8809(01)00354-1
Young Agrarians – Growing the next generation of farmers and food lovers in Canada! (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2016, from http://youngagrarians.org