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Framework for assessing sustainability levels in Belgium agricultural systems - SAFE

Sauvenier, Xavier and Valckx, Jan and Van Cauwenbergh, Nora and Wauters, Erwin and Bachev, Hrabrin and Biala, K. and Bielders, Charles and Brouckaert, Veronique and Garcia-Cidad, V. and Goyens, S. and Hermy, Martin and Mathijs, Erik and Muys, Bart and Vanclooster, M. and Peeters, Alain (2005): Framework for assessing sustainability levels in Belgium agricultural systems - SAFE. Published in: Belgium Science Poilicy , Vol. 1, No. 1 (June 2005): pp. 1-125.

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Sustainability is now regarded as a crucial property of agricultural systems and its evaluation has become a main challenge for scientists, policy makers and farmers. In the last decade, different sets of indicators have been designed both at national and international levels. Meanwhile, more practical environmental impact assessment (EIA) tools have been developed at the farm level . However, none of these indicator sets can be used at both levels. Further, most of these initiatives focus only on environmental aspects of sustainability and do not take socio-economic aspects into consideration. Indicator selection does not always fit in a consistent and comprehensive framework, although there is a strong need to integrate sustainability indicators in order to facilitate comparison and assessment. Finally, few of these works relate to Belgian agriculture, which up til now lacked a tool for assessing the sustainability of its farms. This project aims at providing a framework for assessing sustainability levels in Belgian agricultural systems (SAFE) that overcomes the deficiencies mentioned above. This is achieved by: 1. Considering the concept of agricultural sustainability in a holistic manner – SAFE accounts for all three pillars of sustainability (environmental, economic & social). 2. Developing (a) a consistent approach for defining sustainability principles and criteria and (b) a core list of sustainability indicators identified through a standardized selection procedure. The ‘SAFE selection procedure’ is a flexible scientific process that builts on knowledge and experience of numerous experts. 3. Ensuring that the tool remains as easy as possible to interpret and thus to use, thanks to the integration procedure of sustainability indicators and the graphic expression of the results. 4. Building on a generic methodology. Though the set of selected indicators presented in this report is specific to the Belgian agricultural context, the method developed for the construction of the SAFE tool can be transferred for assessing sustainability levels in other geographical (Europe, world, …) and sectorial contexts. In particular, principles and criteria defined in SAFE have a universal value. 5. Taking action at three spatial levels, depending on the scale of application: (1) parcel (2) farm or (3) watershed for surface water-related issues, landscape/ecosystem for some soil and biodiversity related issues, and administrative units (region, state) for some environmental as well as for some socio-economic issues.

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