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Bridging the Practitioner-Researcher Divide: Indicators to Track Environmental, Economic, and Sociocultural Sustainability of Agricultural Commodity Production

Rasmussen, Laura Vang, Rosina Bierbaum, Johan A. Oldekop, and Arun Agrawal. “Bridging the Practitioner-Researcher Divide: Indicators to Track Environmental, Economic, and Sociocultural Sustainability of Agricultural Commodity Production.” Global Environmental Change 42 (2017): 33-46. Science Direct. Web.

Abstract

Agricultural systems, with their links to human wellbeing, have been at the heart of sustainability debates for decades. But there is only limited agreement among scientists and stakeholders about the indicators needed to measure the sustainability of agricultural commodity production. We analyze the metrics and indicators of sustainability used in contemporary research on commodity agriculture to demonstrate that new sustainability indicators continue to be developed rapidly by researchers interested in the three principal pillars of sustainability (environmental, economic, and sociocultural). Data from interviews with main agencies and organizations investing in sustainable commodity agriculture reveals that the most commonly used indicators in the academic literature do not overlap with the central aspects of agricultural commodity production that practitioners seek to monitor. Increased dialogue between researchers and practitioners is necessary for better design and use of metrics and indicators that are cost-effective and can be used to compare sustainability outcomes across countries and commodities. We argue that finding common ground among researchers and practitioners requires coordinating ongoing data collection efforts, a greater focus on linking data collection to relevant indicators for sustainable agricultural production, and more attention to the analysis of combined datasets, rather than on the collection of new data on new indicators. By outlining twelve key aspects of agricultural commodity production that the interviewed practitioners from major agencies and organizations deem important to track, our analysis provides a strong framework that can help bridge research-practitioner divisions related to agricultural commodity production and the use of indicators to monitor and assess its sustainability. Our findings are relevant to the search for a parsimonious set of sustainability indicators at a critical time within the context of a new emerging global sustainability agenda.

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