Participatory assessment of sustainability and resilience of three specialized farming systems

Paas, W.H.; Coopmans, Isabeau; Severini, Simone; Ittersum, M.K. van; Meuwissen, M.P.M.; Reidsma, P.


There is a need for participatory methods that simultaneously assess agricultural sustainability and resilience at farming system level, as resilience is needed to deal with shocks and stresses on the pathways to more sustainable systems. We present the Framework of Participatory Impact Assessment for Sustainable and Resilient FARMing systems (FoPIA-SURE-Farm). FoPIA-SURE-Farm investigates farming system functioning, dynamics of main indicators, and specifies resilience for different resilience capacities, i.e., robustness, adaptability, and transformability. Three case studies with specialized farming systems serve as an example for the used methodology: starch potato production in Veenkoloniƫn, The Netherlands; dairy production in Flanders, Belgium; and hazelnut production in Lazio, Italy. In all three farming systems, functions that related to food production, economic viability, and maintaining natural resources were perceived as most important. Perceived overall performance of system functions suggest moderate sustainability of the studied farming systems. In the studied systems, robustness was perceived to be stronger than adaptability and transformability. This indicates that finding pathways to higher sustainability, which requires adaptability and transformability, will be a challenging process. General characteristics of farming systems that supposedly convey general resilience, the so-called resilience attributes, were indeed perceived to contribute positively to resilience. Profitability, having production coupled with local and natural resources, heterogeneity of farm types, social self-organization, and infrastructure for innovation were assessed as being important resilience attributes. The relative importance of some resilience attributes in the studied systems differed from case to case, e.g., heterogeneity of farm types. This indicates that the local context in general, and stakeholder perspectives in particular, are important when evaluating general resilience and policy options based on resilience attributes. Overall, FoPIA-SURE-Farm results seem a good starting point for raising awareness, further assessments, and eventually for developing a shared vision and action plan for improving sustainability and resilience of farming systems.