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Agricultural Systems 104 (2011) 105109

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Agricultural Systems
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Integrated assessment of sustainability of agricultural systems and land use: Methods, tools and applications
1. Integration is the key Sustainability of agricultural systems and land use is widely discussed in international literature and is essential for achieving global sustainable development. In the so called Brundtland approach (UNWCED, 1987), and since then mainstreamed in sustainability thinking (e.g. UN, 2003), the three-pillar-approach to sustainable development is based on the understanding that all three dimensions are crucial, interconnected, and urgent. According to Binder et al. (2010), research on sustainability assessment in agriculture has so far poorly addressed multi-functionality in agriculture, has favored the ecological aspect of sustainability instead of aiming at a balance between the ecological, economic and social dimensions of sustainability, and neglected the knowledge of utilizing the results of assessments to achieve their implementation. Irrespective of sustainability denitions, integrated assessment (IA) is seen as a powerful tool for scientic support to the implementation of sustainable development in agricultural policy making (Abaza et al., 2004). IA provides structured knowledge of humanenvironment interactions that can be used for decision making in light of sustainable development (Scher et al., 2010). The importance of this approach is acknowledged by the international research, resulting in a steep increase in the number of publications in the area of integrated assessment (and synonymous terms) and agriculture in agricultural, environmental or social sciences since the mid 1990s (Fig. 1). The abbreviation IA is not to be confused with the often used term for Impact Assessment, which was introduced by the European Commission in 2003 and since 2005 it is a formal procedure of European policy making to be mandatorily applied to all policy process within the European Commission (EC, 2009). Building on Rotmanss (1998) denition of Integrated Assessment that is a structured process of dealing with complex issues, using knowledge from various scientic disciplines and/or stakeholders, such that integrated insights are made available to decision makers, this Special Issue focuses on four integrative elements of IA: sustainability dimensions, scales, models and stakeholders. By illustrating the types of data and models used, we indicate what disciplinary knowledge has been involved and by specifying examples of indicators what sustainability dimensions are covered. Such setting allows for comparison of studies as well as reecting on the main methodological challenges of IA as presented in Rotmans (1998) and concurred in recent publications (e.g. Van Ittersum and Brouwer, 2009; Sieber et al., 2010; Frst et al., in press; Sieber and Prez Domnguez, 2010): (i) aggregation versus disaggregation, (ii) treatment of uncertainty, (iii) blending qualitative and quantitative knowledge, (iv) building up scientic and
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political credibility of IA models, and (v) developing comprehensive and transparent scenarios in a participatory way. In Europe, the introduction of the European Commission Impact Assessment Guidelines created research funding opportunities for integrated projects and additionally have resulted in spin-off collaborative research efforts commissioned within e.g. the 6th Framework Program (FP6) for research (20022006). This program is one of the largest research programs in the world having allocated about 2120 million euro in the area of Sustainable development, Global change and Ecosystems (12.1% of the total FP6 budget). About 55 million euro of the FP6 funds enabled launching a family of research initiatives listed below to build science-based methods and support tools for sustainability impact assessment. They include large research projects like EFORWOOD for the forestry wood chain (Lindner et al., 2010), SEAMLESS for agriculture (Van Ittersum et al., 2008), SENSOR for multifunctional land use (Helming et al., 2008), PLUREL for ruralurban linkages of land use (Nilsson et al., 2009), MATISSE for Methods and Tools for Integrated Sustainability Assessment (Ness et al., 2010), and smaller projects like LUPIS for sustainable land use in developing countries (Reidsma et al., in press), MEA-Scope for multifunctional agriculture (Piorr et al., 2009), Sustainability A-test for a general review of tools for sustainability assessment (Kasperczyk and Knickel, 2006), Advanced-EVAL for evaluation methods of rural development programs (Advanced-EVAL, 2010), EVIA for procedures and practices of impact assessments in the EU (Jacob et al., 2008), INDI-LINK for sustainable development indicators (INDI-LINK, 2010), and ATLAS for training in the area of land use and sustainability impact assessment (ATLAS, 2010). The integrative type of research brings different communities of researchers together and in many cases results in conferences or discussion platforms. Being the results of the Land Use and Cover Change (LUCC) program and its follow up initiatives, special issues in International Journal of Geographical Information Science (Verburg and Veldkamp, 2005), in Land Use Policy (Kok et al., 2007), and in Landscape Ecology (Houet et al., 2010) reconrm through the years the need for more integration in research area of land use changes. A collection of papers in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment (Verburg et al., 2006) reect on research methods and tools used in studies of land use and agriculture done mainly in two projects at the European scale (ATEAM (Schrter et al., 2005) and EURURALIS (Verburg et al., 2008)). Another example is the Farming Systems Design symposium in 2007 that brought together crop scientists, software scientists, and social scientists. A special issue in the European Journal of Agronomy as an outcome of this symposium (Wery and Langeveld, 2010) acknowledges a challenge for better integration of


Editorial / Agricultural Systems 104 (2011) 105109

400 350

Number of publications

300 250 200 150 100 50 0 1980







IA+ and agriculture

IA and agriculture

Fig. 1. Number of publications as cited in Scopus ( The IA+ and agriculture line mirrors the number of publications using key words similar to IA such as impact assessment, sustainability assessment, future assessment, ex-ante assessment integrated tool, decision support, integrative approach, integrated analysis, integrated framework and model-based framework.

agricultural system research and land use change research. This challenge is keeping the eld as the bio-physical unit of crop management, while developing methods and knowledge for up- and down-scaling with the traditional (farm) and new (landscape, watershed, natural ecosystems) embedding and contextual aspects of cropping systems. These novelties in agronomic research are also needed when assessing and designing more sustainable agricultural systems. The rst International Conference on Impact Assessment of Land Use Changes (Helming and Dilly, 2008) organized by the project SENSOR (Sustainability Impact Assessment: Tools for Environmental, Social and Economic Effects of Multifunctional Land Use in European Regions) serves as the third example. It covered a broad variety of topics in sustainability impact assessment and has lead to special issues on case studies of policy assessment in Environmental Science and Policy (Dilly and Pannell, 2009), two issues in Ecological Indicators on assessment methods (Mander and Uuemaa, 2010) and on assessment indicators (Petit and Frederiksen, 2010), an issue in Ecological Modelling (Sieber et al., 2010) on modelling approaches and in Ecology and Society (Helming and Perez-Soba, in press) on scenarios for multifunctional landscapes. These issues present novel approaches and methods of linking models, indicators, data and society. Additionally, the SEAMLESS project published a special issue in Environmental Science and Policy and a book with a focus on integrated assessment of agricultural and environmental policies (Van Ittersum and Brouwer, 2009; Brouwer and Van Ittersum, 2010). Initiated by the IPTS the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies a special issue in Journal of Policy Modelling (Sieber and Prez Domnguez, 2010) adds to the discussion on tools and methods for assessment of agrifood policies in an integrative way. Tools, methods and applications of modelling land use change for spatial planning support are presented in the special issue of Annals of Regional Science (Koomen et al., 2008). Lastly, the latest special issue in Environmental Management (Frst et al., in press) presents examples covering a broad variety of integrated land-use management support tools on different scales. Whether it is the topic, underlying methodology or research project that initiates publications under the keywords integrated assessment and agriculture, an increasing number of publications also indicate that in demand for integrated type of research a new type of integrative scientists seems to emerge. These scientists are willing to invest into a collaborative type of work which

requires commitment in learning about the work of adjoining disciplines to seek for possible linkages (interdisciplinary interaction) and to invest into getting equipped with participatory methods facilitating the implementation of results (transdisciplinary interaction). In about 90 publications that are part of the 12 special issues listed in this Editorial, the relevance of integrated assessment is presented in various formats emphasising e.g. integrated frameworks and on linkages between data, models, indicators and stakeholders. It is however the role of editorials to bring these views under an over-arching theme and to streamline the research terminology such that these research ndings through the use of commonly understood language are recognised by a wider research community. Overall, the authors of individual contributions as well as guest editors of special issues listed above agree that in order to address challenges listed in Rotmans (1998), the next generation of integrated assessment tools will have to deal with uncertainty, multiple scales, stakeholder involvement, transitions dynamics, discontinuities in information and datasets, and extended use of complementary methods including qualitative and quantitative approaches. 2. AgSAP conference and this special issue Scientic efforts of the project SEAMLESS have led to organising the International Conference on Integrated Assessment of Agriculture and Sustainable Development; Setting the Agenda for Science and Policy (AgSAP, see Van Ittersum et al., 2009). This conference concluded a 4-year effort of integrated modelling. It was endorsed by the European Society for Agronomy (ESA), European Federation for Information Technology in Agriculture (EFITA), International Consortium for Agricultural Systems Applications (ICASA) and the International Environmental Modelling and Software Society (iEMSs). The conference presented state-of-the-art scientic approaches to assess agricultural systems in the context of sustainable development. The approx. 250 contributions presented at the conference evaluated and compared alternative methods and modelling approaches, applications and policy support options. They focused on the integration and use of models for linking science and policy, as a method for improving natural resource use, policy making and policy implementation in agriculture. The recognition by scientists from various disciplines of the need for improved integration of interdisciplinary research that would accommodate new developments within the eld of inte-

Editorial / Agricultural Systems 104 (2011) 105109


grated assessment of agricultural systems and land use has resulted in, amongst others, this Special Issue. It consists of eight papers, all of which applying integrated approaches differing in specic features of design, analysis and processes. We introduce the studies in this issue along the four integrative elements of IA: sustainability dimensions, scales, models and stakeholder involvement (see Table 1). The rst three papers couple models for farm-level assessments of impacts of EU policies, in different regions throughout Europe. Uthes et al. (2011) couple a bio-economic model to an agent-based model to assess responses of different farm types to different levels of direct payments in four different European regions. The integration in this paper specically focuses on combining ex-ante farm-level modelling with participatory methods to analyse regional preferences for functions and effects of agriculture. Schnhart et al. (2011) present an integrated modelling framework that combines a spatially explicit bio-economic farm model, a bio-physical process simulation model, and a crop rotation model. The availability of vector-based GIS data and a component based approach followed in this study enhance model transferability to other regions with only small adjustments and provide interfaces to other scientic disciplines, for example landscape planning, ecology or hydrology. Belhouchette et al. (2011) present a study using a bio-economic model to ex-ante assess the impact of the Nitrate Directive in the Midi-Pyrenees region (France) at farm level. A combination of crop and farm bio-economic models enable for ex-ante assessment of trade-offs between environmental and economic issues. The models used are generic and can be applied across the EU and with some adaptations, in other situations. Complementary to the rst three papers that assessed the impacts of policies, the next four papers developed scenarios for im-

proved agricultural production and natural resource management. Vayssires et al. (2011) offer a participatory way of designing an integrated modelling approach and in simulating actual farms it specically focuses on integrating qualitative techniques such as an expert-based farm typology, co-design of model and scenarios, visual interactive simulations and expert-based evaluation of the research results, with quantitative information. The paper by Moore et al. (2011) offers a conceptual and modelling framework to evaluate water use efciency, productivity and sustainability of farming systems at multiple scales in Australia, using bio-physical and whole-farm economic models. While the rst papers all present integrated tools applied at eld, farm and regional level in developed countries, Runo et al. (2011) and Giller et al. (2011) develop and apply an integrated modelling framework for sub-Saharan Africa. Runo et al. (2011) present a specic application of the Nutrient Use in Animal and Cropping systems Efciencies and Scales (NUANCES) framework, coupling modules of crop, cattle, manure and grassland management to a farm model. The study investigates the use of organic resources and interactions between farms under climate variability in northeast Zimbabwe. Consideration of higher level interactions (farm-village) is found crucial when dealing with collectively managed resources, e.g. feed on commonly grazing land. The paper by Giller et al. (2011) integrates research ndings from the NUANCES project across various sub-Saharan Africa sites. The NUANCES framework offers a structured approach to unravel and understand the complexity of African farming to identify technologies targeted to specic types of farmers and to specic niches within their farms. In contrast to most research in development countries, this research effort focuses on multiple approaches and benets from comparative analysis of contrasting farming systems across several developing countries.

Table 1 Main purpose of articles and aspects of IA covered. Study and issue studied Uthes et al. (2011) Policy: elimination of direct payments in CAP Schnhart et al. (2011) Policy: agri-environment programs (AEP) SD dimensions Scales Models Stakeholder involvement Deplhi approach to study regional preferences

Economic Farm, Region, Europe Mixed-integer bio-economic farm Environmental model modam; agent-based model Social AgriPolis Economic Field, Farm, Environmental Landscape

Indirectly: accounting for perceptions Bio-economic farm optimization and goals of stakeholders in model FAMOS[space]; crop rotation model CropRota, bio-physical process developing indicators of AEP impacts model EPIC Cropping system model CropSyst, bio-economic farm model FSSIM GAMEDE, six bio-physical modules integrating croplivestock integration through animalsoil plant bio-physical sub-systems, farm level decision module Cropping system model, grassland model, bio-economic farm model Crop-soil model FIELD, LIVSIM (LIVestock SIMulator), manure model, grassland model, FArm-scale Resource Management SIMulator (FARMSIM) Crop-soil model FIELD, LIVSIM (LIVestock SIMulator), manure model, grassland model, FArm-scale Resource Management SIMulator (FARMSIM) Indirectly: project-related end user group Co-design model and scenarios with farmers, interactive simulations, evaluations with technical advisors

Belhouchette et al. (2011) Policy: nitrate directive Vayssires et al. (2011) Management: sustainable intensication

Economic Field, Farm, Region Environmental Economic Field, farm Environmental Social

Moore et al. (2011) Management: crop rotations and management Runo et al. (2011) Management: nutrient management

Economic Field, farm Environmental Economic Field, farm, village Environmental Social

Indirectly: expert consultations to estimate selected model parameters Interviews for data collection, consultations regarding model assumptions and results

Giller et al. (2011) Management: nutrient management

Economic Field, Farm, Region, Environmental Africa Social

Involvement at local and national level towards learning centres approach. Interviews for data collection and assessment of model assumptions and results; detailed eld observations and surveys

Schneider et al. (2011) Development: millennium ecosystem assessment scenarios

Economic Region, world Environmental

No stakeholder involvement GLOBIOM as bottom-up mathematical programming model of the agricultural and forestry sectors, partial equilibrium model


Editorial / Agricultural Systems 104 (2011) 105109

In all papers the issue of scales was adequately addressed to conduct impact assessments. The rst seven studies addressed the farm level in interaction with eld and regional levels using bottom-up approaches. Besides the farm and regional level assessments we present a global approach by Schneider et al. (2011) where bottom-up approaches are included. A global partial equilibrium model and bottom-up model of the agricultural and forest sectors are developed to analyse global food production in 2030. To what extend have the publications in this Special Issue been able to address other challenges in integrated assessment? In half of the presented papers the integration of sustainability dimensions is addressed in a balanced way. Although the actual integration of social indicators in models is often limited, qualitative approaches compensate for this cavity by engaging traditions and preferences when designing policies and strategies, as was done by Uthes et al. (2011), Vayssires et al. (2011), Runo et al. (2011) and Giller et al. (2011). To address the challenge of aggregation vs. disaggregation at these levels and also to develop comprehensive and transparent scenarios in a participatory way, Vayssires et al. (2011) discuss the advantage of simulating actual instead of average farms. Nevertheless, although the farm and regional level assessments show the importance of including a high level of detail for adequately assessing the diversity of impacts, data availability remains a critical issue. Besides the dependence on scale, IA in developing countries requires a different set of research methods and IA design compared to developed countries, since availability of data and overall research conditions vary tremendously among observed sites and countries (see Giller et al., 2011). Integration of models in the SI papers mainly referred to linking bio-physical models at eld level to decision-making models at farm level. The type of bio-physical models used depend on the land use types and issues addressed (i.e. Moore et al. (2011) focus on water use efciency, Runo et al. (2011) on the use of organic resources). With regard to farm level decision-making models, Schnhart et al. (2011) and Moore et al. (2011) rely on normative income optimization modules. Belhouchette et al. (2011) in addition include calibration procedures for positive instead of normative mathematical programming, while Uthes et al. (2011) complement the optimization model with an agent-based model to include interactions between farms. Others do not use optimization modelling at all, and use decision rules (Vayssires et al., 2011; Giller et al., 2011; Runo et al., 2011). While all these studies focus on the agricultural sector at lower levels, Schneider et al. (2011) additionally analyse linkages to other land use sectors such as common land and forestry, which becomes more important for IA at higher levels. While uncertainty in models can be partly addressed through sensitivity analysis as performed in Schnhart et al. (2011) and Belhouchette et al. (2011), a close involvement of stakeholders into model development and scenario design (Vayssires et al., 2011) and interviews with experts on model assumptions and results (Giller et al., 2011; Runo et al., 2011) are more promising for validation and usability of model results. Finally, stakeholder involvement and end user interaction varied in applied methods and settings and was closely related to methodological frameworks and data availability. While in four studies no direct stakeholder involvement was applied, the remaining ones ranged from strong involvement discussing dayto-day practices (Vayssires et al., 2011), to surveying preferences (Uthes et al., 2011) to interviewing stakeholders in order to include knowledge in scenario and model development and validate outputs (Runo et al., 2011; Giller et al., 2011). These studies clearly show that including stakeholders and qualitative knowledge in IA, improves the development of comprehensive and transparent scenarios that are useful for targeting strategies and policies, and

that it builds up scientic and political credibility of IA models. Uthes et al. (2011) was the only study explicitly discussing their assessments with policy makers, but the discussions with key stakeholders like farmers is as important to tell the right story when attempting to improve policies. This Special Issue is only one of the outcomes of the AgSAP conference. Scientic achievements reported at this conference will also be presented in forthcoming Special Issues in Environmental Science and Policy, International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, and Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. Acknowledgments The guest editors are grateful to the 20 manuscript reviewers who gave their time to make this special issue possible. Thanks also to Paul Berentsen and Martin van Ittersum for comments on this editorial. Without the great efforts of Martin van Ittersum and Floor Brouwer in organising the AgSAP conference and encouraging the setting up of a sequence of special issues, this volume would not have been so timely released in its present form. Irina Bezlepkina and Pytrik Reidsma acknowledge nancial support of the EU FP6 project Land use policies and sustainable development in developing countries (LUPIS) for supporting the work on this special issue. References
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Irina Bezlepkina LEI, part of Wageningen UR, P.O. Box 29703, NL-2502 LS The Hague, The Netherlands E-mail address: Pytrik Reidsma Plant Production Systems Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 430, 6700 AK Wageningen, The Netherlands Stefan Sieber Institute of Socio-Economics, Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, (ZALF), Eberswalder Str. 84, 15374 Mncheberg, Germany Katharina Helming Directorate, Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, (ZALF), Eberswalder Str. 84, 15374 Mncheberg, Germany Available online 13 December 2010