An extension to the concept of sustainability in the Catalan agricultural sector

Bouali Guesmi, PhD in Agricultural Economics, and Mahdieh Khezrinejadgharaei, PhD in Sustainability

Many times, it is difficult to find the definition of a term as broad and ambiguous as sustainability. We understand what it may be referring to, but can’t find the words to explain it. At CREDA, we have an expert team in the field that has been studying the application and adaptation of sustainability in the Catalan agricultural sector for years.

Bouali Guesmi, PhD in Agricultural Economics and researcher at our centre, looks towards sustainability with the idea of “finding a harmonious balance between environmental protection, social equity and economic development“, always with the aim common to “guarantee a better quality of life for present and future generations“.

Everything that encompasses sustainability

To achieve the challenges established in the framework of sustainability, it is necessary to act through three basic pillars: (1) the environmental, which seeks to preserve and protect natural resources, ecosystems, and biodiversity; (2) social, to guarantee the maintenance and improvement of human rights, social justice and the quality of life for everyone; and (3) the economic, which seeks to establish a prosperous economy to support the well-being of current and future generations.

Thus, the set of all three “conforms the achievement of sustainability in every society“, assures Mahdieh Khezrinejadgharaei, PhD in Sustainability and researcher at CREDA. In addition, she explains how within each field there are also two different indices, “the individual ones, which measure the input and output information for each economic agent, and the benchmarking ones which define the borders of all farms“.

How to make agriculture a sustainable system

As Guesmi and Khezrinejadgharaei assert, all sectors that aim to be sustainable must achieve this in all three areas. For this reason, the experts seek to make the agricultural sector a sustainable system by means of “the integration of principles and practices specific to the production processes“, explains the doctor who highlights how through these, “the aim is to improve the well-being of current and future farming communities”.

Sustainable practices are necessary to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the agricultural sector, from techniques to ensure soil health and good water management, to methods that allow biodiversity to be conserved, as well as make efficient use of energy. “Some practices that can be carried out in these areas are the rotation of crops, the collection of rainwater, the reduction of the use of pesticides or the adoption of renewable energy sources“, assures Guesmi.

However, the researcher points out that the main problem is that according to the literature “there are around 90 possible indicators that could be used for sustainable analysis“, which implies a prior delimitation that establishes a specific methodological framework for each case.

The adaptation of each project

‘Indicadors per avaluar la sostenibilitat de les explotacions agràries de Catalunya’ is a consulting project of the Departament d’Acció Climàtica, Alimentació i Agenda Rural de Catalunya (DACC) where Guesmi and Khezrinejadgharaei participate on behalf of CREDA, together with José M. Gil, director of the center. This initiative was born as an evaluation tool for the Catalan cereal sector, with the aim of extending it to other agricultural and livestock orientations.

To carry out its study, the CREDA team made a delimitation using two main databases: the Xarxa Comptable Agrària de Catalunya (XCAC) and the Red Contable Agraria Nacional (RECAN). In this way, the doctor assures that “a total of 36 economic, 18 environmental and 11 social indicators have been used“.

In this case, the economic pillar requires a greater number of study indices “since there is a great relationship between economic efficiency and sustainable development“, explains Khezrinejadgharaei who highlights how a solid economy “can generate the necessary resources for meet the needs of all generations“.

The future of sustainability in the primary sectors

Apart from guaranteeing good levels of sustainability in the Catalan area, with the study of the cereal sector the DACC aims to validate and expand the focus to other specializations, both in agriculture and livestock.

Nevertheless, with a view to carrying out future studies, Guesmi recognizes that the size of the economic sample must be taken into account, “since the larger it is, the more the sustainability index will increase“. This fact implies that to analyse small holdings, it is necessary to “go into more detail to become more sustainable on a global scale“.

In addition, the experts point out that there are several indicators beyond human reach that affect the studies. “Climate change has more significant negative effects in the absence of sustainable adaptation“, explains Khezrinejadgharaei who highlights the attempts to consider innovation as a component of sustainability, “since it can open the way to a more equitable, prosperous and resilient for future generations”.

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