There has been considerable discussion over the past thirty years on how to define “sustainable agriculture”. While the word
sustainability has often been understood from a purely environmental perspective, sustainable agriculture must also be considered from a wider perspective that includes social and economic dimensions. As threats to sustainable agriculture can vary across countries and regions, and as these threats can be both socioeconomic and biophysical, any measure of progress must incorporate this broad multidimensional nature. The indicator adopted by IAEG-SDG, the “Proportion of agricultural area under productive and sustainable agriculture” is intended to do just that.
At the time of writing, this indicator does not yet exist. FAO notes that such an indicator could indirectly measure a number of factors, such as whether a sufficient natural resource base is being maintained to ensure future productivity, and whether income levels are sufficient to sustain the livelihood of an entire family above the poverty line, and could also measure ownership and tenure rights2.11. FAO also points out that the methodological development of such an indicator could benefit from the support of the Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics (United Nations Statistics Division, 2015).
In the absence of data to populate the proposed indicator, the proportion of land under organic agriculture2.12, which is a subset of the broader indicator, is presented. In 2013, there were 170 countries with certified organic agriculture, with almost 2 million producers2.13 farming just over 43 million hectares of organic agricultural land. Organic agricultural land today accounts for about 1 per cent of total agricultural land.
Global sales of organic food and drink were valued at US$72 billion in 2013. About one quarter of the world’s organic agricultural land and more than 80 per cent of the producers are in developing countries. About two thirds of organic agricultural land (27 million hectares) were used for grassland/grazing, and almost 20 per cent (8 million hectares) given over to arable land (cereals including rice, oilseeds and vegetables). A large part of the residual land was used for permanent crops such as coffee, olives, nuts, grapes and cocoa (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), 2015).
The growth in land certified for organic agriculture has been significant over the past decade and a half, rising from just under 15 million hectares in 2000 to more than 43 million hectares in 2013 (see figure 2.5). There has been a very pronounced increase in Oceania since 2012 owing to an additional 5 million hectares of rangeland that were moved to organic production. A steady increase in organic agricultural land over the past decade in Europe is also evident.