A food system approach to assessing sustainable and resilient farming

A recent study published by the Food System Group’s researchers Elin Röös and Bojana Bajželj study a farm that has embarked on a transition to become a “sustainable farm of the future” (in the farmer’s own words). The farm, since long a certified organic lamb meat producer, has moved beyond caring for local impacts at the farm to also take responsibility for the type of food produced on-farm and development of a culture of biosphere stewardship. By diversifying from only producing meat to producing meat and a range of other products and services the farm examplifies the large food system transition that is needed to reach sustainability, that is transitioning to a more plant based eating patterns.

In this study, the sustainability performance of the farm was assessed from three perspectives:

  • Its contribution to food security by assessing the number of people that can be fed per hectare from what is produced on the farm.
  • Its environmental efficiency assessed by the carbon footprint of the food products produced.
  • Its resilience to environmental events, changing sales opportunities and the capability of the farmer to act as a bioshere stewardship.

The farm performance was assessed from 2015 to 2019, and over these years the farm improved on the indicators included in the assessment. For example the number of persons fed per hectare increased from 0.85 to 1.5 in terms of energy and from 1.0 to 1.6 in terms of protein. The diversity of products and connections increased hence improving resilience. At the same time the farm managed to producing meat, cereals and legumes at greenhouse gas intensities similar to regional averages.

The approach used in this study, that is, assessing the farm not only from an point of environmental efficiency of products produced or in terms of local impacts but also including global food security aspects and resilience in farm-level sustainability assessments provides a way to illustrate how farmers can engage as globally responsible biosphere stewards.

The study:

Röös E, Bajzelj B, Weil C, Andersson E, Bossio D, Gordon LJ (2021) Moving beyond organic – A food system approach to assessing sustainable and resilient farming. Global Food Security 28, 100487. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2020.100487 

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