Agriculture is critical to achieving many Sustainable Development Goals. New research from Lund University shows that researchers, policymakers, and farmers in Europe currently have different, often conflicting, priorities for sustainable agriculture. The researchers propose a way forward built on shared priorities.

“We identified precisely where the major gaps between research, policy, and practice are in terms of observable and measurable variables in sustainable agriculture. This built on previous findings that showed that gaps existed, but not where”, says Murray Scown, researcher at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies.

In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Scown and his colleagues Klara Winkler and Kimberly Nicholas analysed the priorities given to 239 social and potentially important for sustainable agriculture. They were identified on the basis of 69 research papers, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals plus four EU policies, and seven agricultural sustainability assessment tools aimed at farmers. They also took a systems perspective and classified variables into their role as either drivers affecting , management choices made on the farm, or social or environmental outcomes.

The analysis found shared consensus among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners for 32 key variables (Figure 1). There was a shared focus on drivers relating to polices on climate, environment and agriculture, as well as subsidies and land ownership; on farm management choices including tillage and use of fertilisers, irrigation, and pesticides; and on environmental outcomes including soil and biodiversity. The research team suggests these 32 variables be included in future studies and policies to make the best use of existing priorities, and that the method they developed can be used to quantitatively track progress towards the SDGs.

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